Genital Warts: Causes, Symptoms, Prevention & More

Genital warts are small lumps that grow in and around the genitals, groin and anal region. It is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) passed on through vaginal, anal and, rarely, oral sex. They are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). They can be different sizes and shapes. Some look like flat white patches and others are bumpy, like tiny bunches of cauliflower. Sometimes you can’t even see the warts at all.

What is human papillomavirus (HPV)?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It is a virus that can be spread through skin-to-skin genital contact. There are many different types of HPV. You might’ve heard that some types of HPV can cause cancer, but they’re NOT the same kinds that give you genital warts. An HPV vaccine is now available which can protect against several strains of HPV, including the ones most likely to cause genital warts and cervical cancer.

What causes genital warts?

Genital warts infection occurs through skin-to-skin contact with someone who has HPV. This most commonly happens through sexual contact (vaginal or anal). However, you don’t need to have penetrative sex to pass on the infection.

How do you get it?

You get genital warts from having skin-to-skin contact with someone who’s infected, often during vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Also, you can spread them even when you don’t have any visible warts or other symptoms, though that’s less common. You can also pass genital warts to a baby during vaginal childbirth, but that’s pretty rare.

However, genital warts are different from warts you might get elsewhere on your body. So you can’t get genital warts by touching yourself (or a partner) with a wart that’s on your hand or foot.

Correct usage of latex condoms greatly reduces, but does not eliminate, the risk of catching or spreading HPV, as skin-to-skin contact can happen around the condom. Once you have been in contact with HPV, warts can take months, even years to develop.

Most people with HPV virus infection do not know they have it. This is why women should have regular cervical smear to pick up changes in the cervix that might lead to cancer without treatment.

What are the symptoms of genital warts?

Most people who come in contact with HPV will not develop genital warts. If you do develop warts, it could happen months, or even years, after you first came into contact with the virus. Besides, most people with HPV infection also have no symptoms. But if they do, the symptoms may be so mild that they may not know they have warts.

Genital warts appear as small, whitish and fleshy bumps or growths found on and around the genital area. They can be so small that they can be difficult to see. You may have a single wart or they can grow in clusters with a cauliflower appearance. They are usually painless, although they can bleed, become inflamed or you may develop visible warts.

In women, it can grow in areas such as:

  • Inside the vagina
  • On the vulva, cervix, or groin
  • In or around the anus
  • On the lips, mouth, tongue, or throat (this is very rare)

In men, it can grow in areas such as:

  • On the penis
  • On the scrotum, thigh, or groin
  • In or around the anus
  • On the lips, mouth, tongue, or throat (this is very rare)

Genital warts can also cause itching, burning, and discomfort. Talk to your doctor if you think you have genital warts.

What are the treatments for genital warts?

There is no cure for HPV but there are treatment options for its symptoms. Talk to your doctor about whether you should treat visible genital warts. They usually go away with no treatment, but they may also spread.

Treatment also depends on the size and number of warts and where they are located. However, you do not need treatment if there are no visible warts.

Your doctor or nurse may apply a chemical to treat the warts in the doctor’s office, or prescribe a cream for you to apply at home. Surgery is also an option. Your doctor may:

  • Use an electric current to burn off the warts
  • Use a light/laser to destroy warts
  • Freeze off the warts
  • Cut out the warts

For most people, it can take several months to remove the warts, so it is important to persevere with treatment. Although treatment can result in the disappearance of the warts, the viral infection is not totally eliminated. The virus can remain dormant (inactive) in the skin after treatment. In many cases, warts do not return after a course of treatment but sometimes will return after a few years.

Prevention of genital warts

The best way to prevent genital warts or any STI is to avoid s3x. But if you do have s3x, practice safer s3x with the following steps:

  • Vaccination against HPV. Most vaccine brands protect you against the types of HPV that cause most cases of genital warts. That’s the best way to avoid any HPV-related problems, including genital warts.
  • Use condoms. Condoms are the best way to prevent STIs when you have sex. Make sure to put the condom on before the penis touches the vagina, mouth, or anus. HPV, the virus that causes genital warts, can infect areas that are not covered by a condom. You can get genital warts from direct skin-to-skin contact.
  • Voluntary counselling and testing. Be sure you and your partner are tested for STIs. Talk to each other about the test results before you have sex.
  • Be monogamous. Having sex with just one partner can lower your risk for STIs. After being tested for STIs, be faithful to each other. That means that you have sex only with each other and no one else.
  • Do not douche. Douching removes some of the normal bacteria in the vagina that protects you from infection. This may increase your risk of getting STIs.
  • Do not abuse alcohol or drugs. Drinking too much alcohol or using drugs increases risky behavior and may put you at risk of sexual assault and possible exposure to STIs.

The steps work best when used together. No single step can protect you from every single type of STI.

About felclinic 593 Articles
Felix Ntifo is a Registered General Nurse who has so much passion to improve health care delivery. He founded FelClinic with the hope of making health information accessible to everyone who may not come in contact with him personally. "At we are very passionate about health and well-being of everyone. Our team is made up of professional doctors, nurses, midwives and lab technicians."

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