What are genital warts?
Genital warts are soft developments that appear on the genitals. They can cause pain, discomfort, and itching. Genital warts are a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by certain low-risk strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). These are different from the high-risk strains that can lead to dysplasia and cervical cancer.
HPV is the most common of all STIs. Sexually active men and women are vulnerable to complications from HPV, including genital warts. HPV infection is especially dangerous for women because some types of HPV can also cause cervical and vulvar cancer. Treatment is key to controlling this infection.
Types of genital warts
More than 100 types of human papillomavirus (HPV) infect humans. Of these, more than 40 types can infect the genital tract and anus (anogenital tract) of both men and women. Occasionally they cause genital lesions known as condylomata acuminate or venereal warts. A subset of HPVs that infect the anogenital tract can lead to precancerous changes in the cervix and cervical cancer.
HPV infection is also related to the development of other anogenital cancers. The types of HPV that because cervical cancer has been linked to anal and penile cancers in men, as well as a subset of head and neck (oropharyngeal) cancers in both women and men. Genital warts and HPV infection are conveyed primarily through sexual intimacy, and the risk of infection increases as the number of sexual partners increases.
The most common types of HPV that infect the anogenital tract are HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18 (HPV-6, HPV-11, HPV-16, and HPV-18), although other types of HPV can also cause infection. . Among these, HPV-6 and HPV-11 are most commonly associated with benign lesions such as genital warts which are called “low risk” HPV types. In contrast, HPV-16 and HPV-18 are the types most commonly found in cervical and anogenital cancers, as well as severe cervical dysplasia. These belong to the group of so-called “high-risk” HPVs.
Other types of HPV infect the skin and cause common warts on other parts of the body. Some types of HPV (for example, HPV 5 and 8) often cause skin cancers in people who have a condition known as epidermodysplasia verruciformis (EV). HPV infection is spread through skin-to-skin contact, including sexual intercourse.
Causes of genital warts
Genital warts are usually a sexually transmitted disease (STD). They are caused by HPV (human papillomavirus). HPV can also cause some types of cancer. But the types of HPV that cause genital warts do not usually cause cancer.
Symptoms of genital warts
It can appear as a single wart or as multiple warts in a group.
- One or more small, flesh-coloured, or grey painless growths or lumps around the vagina, penis, anus, or upper thighs
- Itching or bleeding from the genitals or anus
- A change in your normal flow of urine (for example, sideways) that does not go away.
- Keep in mind that warts can be difficult to notice if they are internal (inside the vagina or anus) and that many people with the strain of HPV that causes genital warts will not develop any symptoms or even know they have it.
Symptoms of genital warts can appear weeks, months, or years after being in contact with the virus that causes them. If you have symptoms of genital warts, it is important to visit a health clinic to get them checked.
How do you get genital warts?
It can be transmitted through vaginal or anal sex without a condom and by sharing sex toys. The virus is spread through close genital contact, which means that you can contract and transmit warts if you touch someone’s genitals, even if you don’t have penetrative sex or ejaculate (ejaculate). Although rare, genital warts can also be transmitted through oral sex and affect the mouth and throat.
You can only get genital warts from someone else who has the virus but keep in mind that not everyone will know if they have it. If warts are internal, someone may not notice them and people can transmit the virus even if they don’t have any symptoms. You cannot get genital warts from kissing, hugging, swimming, sharing towels or silverware.
If a woman has genital warts during pregnancy, there is a risk that she will pass them on to her baby at birth. This is not very common, but pregnant women need to seek the advice of a healthcare worker if they notice any symptoms.
Treatment of genital warts
Treatment for genital warts must be prescribed by a doctor. The type of treatment that you will be offered depends on how the warts look and where they are located. The doctor or nurse will discuss it with you.
- Cream or liquid: You can typically apply this to warts yourself several times a week for several weeks, but in some cases, you may need to go to a sexual health clinic where a physician or nurse will apply it. These treatments can cause pain, irritation, or burning sensation.
- Surgery: A physician or nurse can cut, burn, or use a laser to remove warts. This can cause pain, irritation, or scarring.
- frostbite: Warts are frozen by a doctor or nurse. Sometimes the treatment is repeated several times. This can cause pain.
- It may take weeks or months for the treatment to work and warts may return. For some people, treatment does not work.
There is no cure for genital warts, but your body may fight the virus over time.
How long do genital warts last?
The duration of genital warts can vary from one person to another. Sometimes the immune system clears warts in a few months. But even if warts go away, HPV may still be active in the body. Then warts can come back. Usually, within 2 years, warts and HPV disappear from the body.
Diagnosis of genital warts
A doctor can usually recognize genital warts during a physical exam. This may involve looking inside the vagina or anus. In rare cases, the doctor may take a biopsy, a small skin sample, from a wart for further testing.
Because warts often take time to develop after the person becomes infected, the doctor may ask the person to come back for a follow-up check. Some are so small that doctors can only find them with a tool called a colposcope. A colposcopic exam of the cervix and vagina or a Pap test can help doctors diagnose these warts.
A person should go for a sexual health checkup if:
- Have had sexual contact with a new partner
- Suspect, they have genital warts
- Think you have any other STIs
How can I prevent the spread of genital warts?
If you discover that you have genital warts, try not to panic. There are a few ways that you can prevent it from spreading to your partners.
- Encourage your partner to talk to a doctor or nurse about the HPV vaccine. Most brands can protect against some types of viruses that cause most cases of genital warts.
- Continuously use condoms and dental dams during oral, anal, and vaginal sex.
- Don’t have sex when you have noticeable warts, even with a condom. There may be warts in places that the condom does not cover.
- Stop smoking: If you smoke, you may be more likely to get warts than non-smokers, and warts are more likely to come back if you smoke.
- Always tell your sexual partners that you have genital warts before you have sex, so they can work together to prevent them from spreading.
How do I avoid genital warts?
First, talk to your doctor about the HPV vaccine; most vaccine brands protect you against the types of HPV that cause most cases of genital warts. That’s the best way to evade any HPV-related problems, including genital warts.
These are spread through skin-to-skin sexual contact with someone who has it, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Therefore, the only sure way to avoid genital warts and other STDs is to not have any contact with someone else’s mouth or genitalia. But most people do have sex at some point in their lives, so knowing how to have safer sex is important. Using protection like condoms and dental dams when you have sex really helps reduce your risk of getting an STD.
You can also avoid having sex with someone if you see warts on your genitals or anus because that is when they are most easily spread. But remember, it is possible to catch or spread them when there are no visible warts, so it is important to use condoms and dental dams even if everything looks totally fine. And while there is no genital wart test, getting tested for STDs at routine checkups with a doctor or nurse is part of staying healthy.
Most sexually active people become infected with genital HPV at some point. Factors that can increase your risk of flattering infected include:
- Having unprotected sex with multiple partners.
- Having had another sexually transmitted infection.
- Having sex with a companion whose sexual history you don’t know
- Becoming sexually active at a young age
- Having a compromised immune system, such as HIV or organ transplant medications
Complications of HPV infection can include:
- Cervical cancer has been closely related to genital HPV infection. Certain types of HPV are also associated with cancers of the vulva, anus, penis, mouth, and throat.
- HPV infection does not always lead to cancer, but women need to have regular Pap tests, especially those who have been infected with higher-risk types of HPV.
- Problems during pregnancy. Rarely during pregnancy, warts may enlarge, making urination difficult. Warts on the vaginal wall can inhibit the stretching of vaginal tissues during labour. Large warts on the vulva or vagina can bleed when stretched during childbirth.
- Very rarely, a baby born to a mother with genital warts develops warts in the throat. The baby may need surgery to prevent the airway from becoming blocked.