What is genital warts?
Genital warts are a sexually transmitted infection. They are small lumps on the genitals which you can see or feel. Genital warts are very common. They are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), but do not cause cancer. There are over 100 strains of HPV, but only some affect the genitals and not all cause visible warts. Genital warts can be on the Vagina, cervix, penis and (sometimes) in the mouth or throat.
Risk factors for genital warts
- HPV is spread by direct skin-to-skin contact during vaginal or anal sex. It is also possible, but rare, to transmit HPV to the mouth by oral sex. Infection may occur after direct contact with a visible wart or contact with genital skin where the virus is present.
- Warts may appear within a few weeks after sex with a person who has HPV, or they may take months to appear, or they may never appear. This can make it hard to know when or from whom you got the virus.
Treatment for genital warts
It is important to remember that treatment does not get rid of the virus. It only treats the visible warts. For most people, the body’s natural immunity will get rid of the virus over time. Treatment options include:
- Cryotherapy: the warts are frozen off with liquid nitrogen or dry ice. Several treatments may be required.
- Podophyllotoxin: this lotion can be applied at home. Pregnant women should not use podophyllotoxin.
- Imiquimod cream: this is applied once a day, three times a week for up to three months. This treatment is not recommended for use in pregnancy.
- Laser treatment: this is used for larger numbers of warts or when other treatment options have not been effective. Laser treatment is administered in hospital under general anaesthetic. Remember, this procedure does not get rid of the virus – just the visible warts.
Reappearance of Genital warts after treatment
- The virus may persist on the skin, even though the visible wart has gone. This means that warts may reappear.
- If the wart reappears, it does not necessarily mean that you have caught the infection again.
- In most cases, the wart will eventually disappear for good. This is due to the body’s natural immune response clearing the virus from the body.
Reducing the risks of getting genital warts by following this advice:
- Always use condoms. Condoms are the best way to protect you both from STIs. Always use condoms during vaginal and anal sex, until you’re totally sure that both you and your partner don’t have an STI.
- Limit your sex partners: The fewer people you have sex with, the less chance you have of having sex with someone who has genital warts or other STIs.
- Have regular STI checks.
- Young people should be vaccinated against HPV before they become sexually active.