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Genital Warts

Genital warts (Human Papilloma Virus/HPV)

What is it?

Warts are caused by viruses (HPV) and can cause visible warts or an invisible infection of the skin.  There are many different types of wart virus that affect different parts of the body, with several that affect genital skin.

How do you get it?

Genital warts are passed on through genital skin-to-skin contact. Condoms provide some protection from genital warts but not all the genital skin is covered by the condom so it is still possible to get genital warts.

The incubation period for genital warts may vary from weeks to months to years. Many people carry the wart virus without ever having any visible warts.

Signs and symptoms

Visible warts:

  • Found on the vulva, penis and around the anus.
  • Raised and cauliflower shaped, or flat and smooth.
  • Warts can be single growths or in groups, which vary in size.

Invisible warts:

  • Not seen by the naked eye and extremely common.
  • Present on the vulva, vagina, cervix, penis, balls, around the anus and in the rectum.
  • In women it will sometimes show up on a Pap smear test result.

People may not be aware they have genital warts. They can be invisible, are generally painless, are not obvious and may be mistaken for skin tags.

Treatment

  • Warts will disappear spontaneously without treatment as a result of the body’s own defences but this may take months to years.
  • Visible genital warts can be removed by a paint or cream, freezing, diathermy (burning)or laser.
  • Recurrence rates are high, because the virus remains in the skin.

Prevention

Always use condoms, gloves and dams with water-based lube. Regular pap smears will detect the wart virus on the cervix and early treatment will substantially reduce the risk of further cervical cell changes.

A vaccine is now available for young people under 26 years of age that will protect against the types of HPV most likely to cause the majority of cervical cancer (types 16 and 18) and the majority of visible genital warts (types 6 and 11). For more info contact a sexual health centre or talk to your doctor.