Are genital warts dangerous?

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HPV & Relationships

How will HPV affect my relationship/s?

The emotional impact of finding out that you or your partner has an STI can sometimes be worse than the actual infection.

It’s really important to gain some perspective about an STI diagnosis before any assumptions are made – and this is especially true with HPV.

Remember that 80% of unvaccinated adults will pick up HPV at some point in their life. As most HPV is invisible, partners will inevitably share it, and there is no way to know which partner it came from or when they got it.

In most people, HPV is harmless and causes no symptoms and will not develop into warts, pre-cancer or cancer. In a few people, HPV can cause genital warts or abnormal cells, both of which can develop months or years after acquiring an infection with HPV. There is no sure way to know when you were infected.

This can be difficult to believe, especially for partners in long-term relationships who feel that some recent infidelity must be to blame. However, research continues to show that even patients who have not been sexually active for many years can suddenly develop warts or have abnormal cervical smears.

What should I tell my partner about HPV?

Partners will inevitably share HPV. This is normal. In new relationships, condoms do provide some protection against HPV and offer good protection from many other sexually transmitted infections.

Key information to share is that:

  • Most (80%) of unvaccinated adults will pick up HPV at some point in their life.
  • In most people it causes no symptoms (you won’t know you have it) so it is therefore unavoidably shared mainly through sexual (including oral) skin-to-skin contact.
  • In most people the virus is harmless and will not develop into warts, pre-cancer or cancer.
  • There is no sure way to know when HPV was acquired i.e. from which partner it came from or how long ago.
  • Sex partners who have been together tend to share HPV, even when both partners do not show signs of HPV.
  • Having HPV does not mean that a person or their partner is having sex outside the current relationship.
  • There is no treatment to eliminate HPV itself. HPV is usually dealt with by your body’s immune system.
  • HPV does not stop you having a normal sex life.
  • There are tests for HPV. However, these are limited in which HPV types they test for and when they are used. “HPV testing” is not available as part of a sexual health check (routine check up) for males or females, as there is no swab or blood test that can check for all HPV types and also because, in some people, the virus is “hibernating” at levels that are not detectable by testing. This means there is no test that can help answer the questions “Do I have HPV?”, “Does my partner have HPV?”, “Has my HPV gone?”.

What about future sexual partners?

It is not clear if there is any health benefit to informing (future) partners about a past diagnosis of genital HPV or warts. This is because it is not known how long the virus remains and for most people, the virus is either suppressed or cleared by the immune system.

Remember that HPV is so common most people who have not had the HPV vaccination will at some point have a genital HPV infection, but because it is mostly invisible, it will never be diagnosed.

With any new sex partner, condoms are important. Whilst condoms may not fully protect your partner from HPV, they do protect both of you from other sexually transmitted infections. For couples in long-term monogamous relationships, condoms are probably of little value in preventing HPV infections as partners will inevitably share HPV.

If my partner has genital warts, but my Pap test is normal, am I infected with HPV?

Paul Offit: Hi, my name’s Paul Offit. I’m talking to you today from the Vaccine Education Center here at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

One question we recently got from a woman who contacted us through our site was this, that her partner has genital warts, but she had had a Pap test and that Pap test had come back negative, does that mean then that she’s not infected.

The straight answer to that is no; it doesn’t mean that at all. When someone has genital warts invariably it’s because it’s caused by human papillomavirus, and therefore the person who has it is certainly … can spread that virus from one person to another. What the Pap test tells you is it tells you that your cervical cells haven’t started to change or be transformed on the way to becoming cancerous. But it doesn’t mean you’re not infected because, frankly, most people who are infected don’t go on to develop those cervical changes on the way to cancer. So all it tells is that at least to date the infection that you may have gotten hasn’t caused your cells to start to become cancerous. But it doesn’t tell you at all that you haven’t become infected.

In This Section

  • Genital Warts
  • What are the symptoms of genital warts?
  • Do I have genital warts?
  • How do I get treated for genital warts?
  • How can I prevent getting or spreading genital warts?

Genital warts are skin-colored or whitish bumps that appear on your genitals or anus. You can also have the virus that causes genital warts but not have any symptoms.

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Genital Warts Symptoms

Genital warts look like skin-colored or whitish bumps that show up on your vulva, vagina, cervix, penis, scrotum, or anus. They kind of look like little pieces of cauliflower. You can have just one wart or a bunch of them, and they can be big or small. They might be itchy, but most of the time they don’t hurt.

Not all bumps on the genitals are warts. There are other infections and normal skin conditions that might look like a wart but are something else. If you think you have genital warts, it’s important to get checked out by a nurse or doctor.

When do genital warts usually develop?

It can take several weeks, months, or even years after you have sexual contact with someone who has genital warts for them to show up. That’s why it’s so hard to know when you got the HPV infection that caused them, or who passed it to you.

You can get the virus and never actually get warts, so you could be infected and not have any symptoms. Some people only get warts once, and then never get them again. Some people have warts develop more than once (recurring).

If you get genital warts, you might think that means your partner has been cheating on you. That’s not necessarily true. It can sometimes take a really long time for warts to show up, so it’s possible that you or your partner might have gotten them a long time ago. Sometimes the virus lives months or even years in the body before turning into genital warts.

Fun fact: You can have the HPV type that causes warts and never have any symptoms yourself, but STILL give it to someone else. And then genital warts can show up on them. So knowing exactly when you got genital warts (and who gave them to you) is complicated. Talking with your partner and a doctor or nurse can help.

More questions from patients:

What are the symptoms of HPV genital warts in women?

Most people with HPV warts don’t have any symptoms besides the warts themselves. HPV generally goes away on its own without causing any health problems. If it does cause warts, it can take months for them to show up.

The symptoms of HPV warts in women include small bumps or groups of bumps in the genital area. Warts can show up inside or outside the vagina, in or around the anus, or on the cervix. You can’t always see the bumps. They can be

  • small or large

  • flesh-colored or slightly darker

  • raised or flat

  • smooth or bumpy (like cauliflower)

HPV warts in women might go away, stay the same, or grow in size or number. They’re usually painless. You might also be itchy down there or have unusual vaginal discharge.

If you have warts or red bumps on or around your genitals, if your partner has been diagnosed with HPV or another STD, or if your partner has warts, check in with your doctor or nurse or contact your local Planned Parenthood health center. They can usually diagnose HPV warts by taking a look.

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While there is no medical cure for HPV, there are several treatment options available for genital warts. The goal of any treatment should be to remove visible warts to get rid of annoying symptoms. Treating the warts may possibly help reduce the risk of transmission to a partner who may have never been exposed to the wart-types of HPV.

When choosing what treatment to use, the healthcare provider will consider the size, location and number of warts, changes in the warts, patient preference, cost of treatment, convenience, adverse effects, and their own experience with the treatments. No one treatment is best for all cases. Some treatments are done in a clinic or doctor’s office; others are prescription creams that can be used at home for many weeks.

Treatments done in the doctor’s office include:

  • Cryotherapy (freezing off the wart with liquid nitrogen). This can be relatively inexpensive, but must be done by a trained healthcare provider.
  • Podophyllin (a chemical compound that must be applied by a healthcare provider). This is an older treatment and is not as widely used today.
  • TCA (trichloracetic acid) is another chemical applied to the surface of the wart by a healthcare provider.
  • Cutting off warts. This has the advantage of getting rid of warts in a single office visit.
  • Electrocautery (burning off warts with an electrical current)
  • Laser therapy (using an intense light to destroy warts).This is used for larger or extensive warts, especially those that have not responded well to other treatments. Laser can also cost a lot of money. Most healthcare provider do not have lasers in their office and the provider must be well-trained with this method.
  • Interferon (a substance injected in to the wart). This is rarely used anymore due to extensive side effects and high cost. Less expensive therapies work just as well with fewer side effects.

At-home prescription creams (these are only available by a prescription):

  • Podofilox cream or gel (Condylox®). This is a self-applied treatment for external genital warts. It may be less expensive than treatment done in a healthcare provider’s office, is easy to use and is safe, but it must be used for about 4 weeks.
  • Imiquimod cream (Aldara®). This is also a self-applied treatment for external genital warts. It is safe, effective and easy to use. This cream is different than other commonly-used treatments, which work by destroying the wart tissue. Aldara® actually boosts the immune system to fight HPV, and may make recurrences less likely.

IMPORTANT: Over-the-counter wart treatments should not be used in the genital area.

Genital warts

A biopsy (small sample of the suspected wart(s) that is examined under a microscope) is generally not needed to diagnose genital warts. However, biopsy may be recommended if:

  • the appearance of the warts is unusual;
  • new warts occur in older people; or
  • genital warts are not responding to treatment.

Treatment

Genital warts usually get better on their own without treatment, and the HPV infection is eventually cleared by the immune system. However, this can take several years, so many people choose to have genital warts treated for cosmetic reasons. Treatment can also reduce symptoms of itching and discomfort. Current treatments can remove the visible warts but as yet there is no treatment to cure HPV infection.

Your doctor may recommend applying medicine to the warts, freezing them, or or having the warts surgically removed. The extent and size of the warts, their location, and your preferences will help determine the best treatment choice.

You may need several treatments to get rid of the warts. Bear in mind that genital warts can come back after treatment while you still have the HPV infection. If this happens (usually it happens in the first 3 months after treatment), you may need to be treated again.

Medicines to treat genital warts

A cream called imiquimod (brand names Aldara, Aldiq) can be used to treat external genital warts and anogenital warts. It works by improving the immune system’s response to HPV, and you can apply the cream yourself.

The cream is applied at bedtime and then washed off after 6 to 10 hours. You apply the cream 3 nights per week until the warts are gone (up to 16 weeks). Imiquimod may not be suitable for people with dermatitis or eczema and should not be used during pregnancy or breast feeding. Imiquimod is not suitable for warts inside the vagina or on the cervix in women. You should avoid all sexual contact while the cream is on your skin. Imiquimod can weaken condoms and diaphragms, so you may need to use an alternative form of contraception if you do have sex. Possible side effects of imiquimod include redness, swelling and skin irritation.

Alternatively, a medicine called podophyllotoxin can be applied to external anogenital warts. It comes as a cream (brand name Wartec cream) or solution that can be painted on the warts (Condyline Paint, Wartec topical solution).

These medicines are applied 3 days a week for a maximum of 4 or 5 weeks. The paint is best used on external skin, while the cream may be preferable for warts around the anus, under the foreskin in men and around the opening of the vagina in women. Podophyllotoxin is not suitable for warts inside the vagina or on the cervix in women. It should not be used by women who are pregnant or breast feeding.

You should avoid having sex while using podophyllotoxin. Side effects can include redness, burning, itching and irritation of the skin.

For all wart medicines applied to the skin (known as topical medicines), take care not to get the medicine on normal skin to avoid irritation.

Cryotherapy

Cryotherapy, or cryosurgery, is where liquid nitrogen is applied to the warts to freeze them. Cryotherapy may be recommended for warts that are not responding to topical medicines.

Cryotherapy may be done once a week or once every 2 weeks until the warts disappear. It can be painful, so your doctor may suggest taking a painkiller such as paracetamol before or after the procedure. Following cryotherapy, a blister will usually form – don’t touch or break the blister; it will heal in a few days.

Surgical removal of genital warts

Genital warts can be removed surgically or using laser ablation or electrosurgery (which uses an electrical current to remove warts). These procedures are usually done under general anaesthetic and may be offered to people with anogenital warts over a relatively large area. Some warts may be surgically removed under local anaesthetic.

Treating genital warts during pregnancy and childbirth

Pregnancy can sometimes trigger genital warts if you have a dormant HPV infection, or it can make an active infection worse, meaning that the warts grow more quickly than usual. Warts often clear up on their own after the baby is born, but if treatment is needed during pregnancy, cryotherapy or surgical removal is usually recommended because topical wart medicines are not recommended for pregnant women.

Some women with genital warts are concerned about passing the virus to their baby while giving birth vaginally. However, this is generally rare. Ask your doctor, obstetrician or midwife for advice if you have genital warts while you are pregnant.

HPV vaccination

Australian research has led to the development of vaccines that immunise against the some of the HPV types that can cause genital warts and/or cervical cancer.

Gardasil protects against HPV types 16, 18, 6 and 11, so it can help protect against genital warts as well as cervical cancer. From early 2018 a new 9-valent vaccine (Gardasil 9) will be available that protects against 9 different types of HPV. It is possible to be vaccinated with this newer vaccine even if you have already been immunised – talk to your doctor. Cervarix vaccine protects against 2 high-risk HPV types that are linked with cervical cancer (types 16 and 18), but not the types responsible for genital warts.

HPV vaccination with Gardasil 9 (from 2018) is recommended for all adolescents aged 12-13 years as part of the National Immunisation Program Schedule. The Commonwealth Government currently funds a school-based HPV programme where vaccination is offered for free to girls and boys in year 7 or 8 of high school.

It’s important to remember that none of the current vaccines protect against all types of HPV associated with cervical cancer. So you still need to have cervical cancer screening tests even if you’ve been vaccinated. HPV tests have replaced Pap smears as the primary cervical cancer screening tests in Australia. These tests check for the presence of infection with high-risk types of HPV in the cervix, and cell changes in the cervix if needed.

Protecting yourself and others from genital warts

You can lower your risk of getting genital warts and protect others from infection by practising safe sex using condoms (they offer some protection against genital warts, but not 100 per cent). Remember, vaccination doesn’t protect against all types of HPV that can cause genital warts, and using condoms also helps prevent infection with other STIs.

If you remove your pubic hair by waxing or shaving, wait at least a day before having intimate contact with someone. This gives your skin a chance to repair itself and will help reduce your risk of infection. If your skin is irritated, wait until it returns to normal before having sex.

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Last Reviewed: 25/01/2018

myDr

What you need to know about genital warts

Share on PinterestGenital warts are highly contagious.
Image credit:
Author George Chernilevsky, own work

A topical cream can remove most genital warts. Topical means that medicine is applied directly to the skin.

Doctors will only treat patients who have visible warts. The type of treatment depends on:

  • the location of the warts
  • the number of warts
  • the appearance of the warts

The following treatments are effective for removing genital warts:

  • Topical medication: A cream or liquid is applied directly onto the warts for several days each week. This may be administered at home or in a clinic. Treatment may continue for several weeks.
  • Cryotherapy: The warts are frozen, often with liquid nitrogen. The freezing process causes a blister to form around the wart. As the skin heals, the lesion slides off, allowing new skin to appear. Sometimes, repeated treatments are needed.
  • Electrocautery: An electric current is used to destroy the wart, generally under local anesthetic.
  • Surgery: The wart is excised, or cut out. A local anesthetic will be used.
  • Laser treatment: An intensive beam of light destroys the wart.

It is common for doctors to use more than one treatment at the same time.

Treatments are not painful but may sometimes cause soreness and irritation for up to 2 days. People who experience discomfort after treatment can take over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers for relief.

People who experience soreness may find that a warm bath helps to relieve discomfort. After a bath, the affected area must be dried completely. Patients should not use bath oils, soap, or creams until after the treatment is completed.

OTC treatments specified for non-genital warts are not suitable for the treatment of genital warts.

Genital warts will generally resolve without treatment. However, some presentations of genital warts grow and multiply if left alone.

Treating genital warts greatly reduces the risk of transmission.

Share on PinterestBeing prepared with sexual protection can keep genital warts at bay.

To avoid catching or spreading genital warts, it is important for sexually active people to take preventive steps.

These can include:

  • abstinence from sexual contact
  • using protection, such as a condom or dental dam
  • women receiving the HPV vaccine
  • openly informing partners about genital warts
  • quitting smoking

It is crucial for sexually active people to practice safe sex.The genitals of either partner can seem to be HPV-free as no warts are present. However, the virus can still spread without visible symptoms.

Pap tests and genital warts

A Pap test, also known as a Pap smear, is a procedure to test for cervical cancer in women. The test involves collecting cells from the woman’s cervix. Cervical cancer is a possible complication of HPV infection.

Women should have HPV vaccinations and regular pelvic exams and Pap tests. These can also detect cervical and vaginal changes that may be triggered by the onset of genital warts.

HPV vaccinations do not protect against all types of HPV. Women are advised to continue attending screenings after vaccination.

HPV Warts: The Misunderstood STD

A women’s health expert answers questions about a very common sexually transmitted infection.

Genital warts are treatable, but it’s best to treat them soon after discovering them, rather than waiting months or years. Alamy

Many individuals worry about STDs, such as chlamydia or herpes. But there’s another extremely common one you need to be aware of.

If you’re sexually active, you’ve likely been exposed to the virus that causes genital warts, called the human papillomavirus (HPV). Genital warts appear as growths or bumps that are flesh-colored or whitish. They may be small or large, raised or flat, and appear singly or in groups.

While genital warts generally do not cause such symptoms as itching or pain, many people find them embarrassing, and they can be spread from person to person.

Fast Facts About the Human Papillomavirus

About 79 million Americans are thought to have an active HPV infection at any given time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). An additional 14 million people become newly infected with HPV each year.

But not all strains of HPV cause genital warts. Some cause common skin warts, and some can cause cellular changes that can lead to cancer of the cervix, vagina, vulva, anus, penis, and oropharynx — the area at the back of the throat that includes the base of the tongue and tonsils.

For many people, an HPV infection never causes any symptoms or harm, because the body is able to clear the virus naturally.

But in some cases, according to a study published in journal Viruses in October 2017, the virus may still be present in the body and may become active if a person’s immune system is weakened because of illness or age.

“I’ve had older women show up with the warts for the first time in their lives, and they’re widows haven’t had sex for 20 years,” says Anita L. Nelson, MD, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UCLA’s medical school and a staff physician at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, California.

“Suddenly their bodies can’t cope with a virus that they’ve been walking around with for decades, and it shows itself,” Dr. Nelson says.

Your Common HPV Questions Answered

Discovering you have a sexually transmitted infection is never a pleasant surprise, but knowing more about it and the treatments available can help to set your mind at ease.

Here, Nelson answers some common questions about HPV.

Q. What causes genital warts?

A. Genital warts are caused by certain types of sexually transmitted HPV. There are more than 40 HPV types that can affect the genital area of women and men. But more than 90 percent of genital warts are caused by just two types: HPV 6 and 11.

Q. How common are HPV 6 and 11?

A. One percent of all sexually active women and men get genital warts every year. We see them in everyone — women who are pregnant, young adults exploring their sexuality, older women and men.

Q. How soon after contact do the warts typically occur?

A. That’s one of the most frequently asked questions, because a person’s really asking, “Who gave it to me?”

Typically, you get warts within one to four months of being infected with HPV. But the virus can be kept in check by the immune system for longer than that.

Q. Does everyone exposed to HPV 6 and 11 get warts?

No. Warts can appear after a person is infected, or you can have none at all, as the body’s immune system fights the virus.

Q. Can HPV warts surface at any time in your life — even years after exposure?

A. Yes. Sometimes, we’ll see them later in life, when people get sick or their immune system gets compromised by chemotherapy or other drugs.

So they don’t just occur when you have a new sex partner.

Q. How can sexually active individuals avoid getting HPV warts?

A. Using condoms — or “finger condoms” for manual stimulation — consistently reduces the risk of acquiring or transmitting the virus that causes the warts.

Also, interestingly, HPV infects rapidly dividing cells. So anywhere there’s a little trauma, tear, or abrasion, the body can pick up the virus and bring it inside the cells.

Sometimes we’ll see the warts in younger women, because it’s the first time they’ve had sex and the vaginal tissue isn’t quite elastic. It’s the same with some older women who have vaginal dryness.

Q. Does the number of sex partners a person has over a lifetime increase the risk of HPV warts?

A. Yes, people who have had more than 10 sexual partners over their lifetime are more likely to report a diagnosis of genital warts than those who’ve had one or two.

The more sex partners you have, the more likely you are to have different types of HPV infection as well.

And there’s no limit to how many different HPV types you can have. Limiting the number of partners and using condoms are very important to reducing your risk.

Q. Are HPV warts spread only through genital contact?

A. No, you can spread the virus from any moist source to another. The same type of warts that develop on the genitals can also grow in the mouth and throat and even in the insides of the eyelids.

But there has to be a source, and generally you’re going to be carrying the virus in the genitals.

We have to be quite frank about sexual practices today. There’s a lot of oral-genital contact. If one partner has a wart in their mouth, the other partner can wind up with warts on the genitalia if there’s oral-genital contact.

Q. Can HPV warts lead to cervical cancer?

A. The two types of HPV that cause most genital warts — types 6 and 11 — do not cause cancer.

However, some types of HPV that are associated with cancer have been found in genital warts.

It’s also possible to have or get more than one type of HPV at once, including those that can cause cancers in the genital area, such as cervical, vulvar, or anal cancer, or cancers of the mouth and throat.

Having genital warts caused by non-cancer-causing HPV strains doesn’t mean you don’t also have potentially cancer-causing HPV.

Q. Are genital warts more a psychological issue than a health danger?

A. Genital warts may cause some physical discomfort, such as burning and itching, or even bleeding in an intimate situation.

The various treatments to remove genital warts can also cause pain and irritation and can be expensive, depending on what type of treatment you use and what kind of health insurance coverage you have.

For many people, though, there is significant psychological discomfort in realizing they’ve been exposed to a virus they’re going to live with for the rest of their lives and could transmit to others.

Q. Are women more likely than men to get the warts?

A. No, but we have more statistics on women because doctors tend to see women much more routinely. Gynecologists, for example, do Pap smears and visually inspect a woman’s genitals.

Guys tend to just look at themselves and don’t come in for routine exams.

A fact I find sad: In most of the clinical trials, the guys have had their warts a lot longer than the women have.

When a woman sees one of those things, she rushes to her doctor and says, “Get it off of me!”

Q. Can Pap tests detect HPV warts?

A. No. Pap tests detect abnormalities in cervical cells that may be cancerous or precancerous. A newer HPV test detects the presence of the virus in cervical cells.

RELATED: New Analysis Suggests Cervical Cancer Screenings Should Continue After Age 65

Q. How are genital warts diagnosed?

A. You want to have them professionally diagnosed. Usually physicians just eyeball them and don’t have to do a biopsy. A doctor can often tell it’s a wart because warts have a little attachment to the skin and multiple protuberances from the single stalk.

Q. What do the warts look like?

A. They can look soft and fleshy, almost like a skin tag, or they can be rock-hard and large with branches like a cauliflower.

They can be a small little dot or bigger than your fist.

Q. Are they easier to treat if discovered early?

A. Yes. Don’t wait if you think you might have genital warts. When you feel a bump, especially around the opening of the vagina, or behind the vagina, see your doctor.

Also, it’s important to know that once you get infected, it’s a regional infection. For example, you can get a wart inside your anus even if you haven’t had anal sex.

Q. How soon should a wart be treated?

A. It’s not a medical emergency. But the HPV warts that are really hard to treat have been there for months and have hardened.

If you can’t get an appointment for two to three weeks after feeling the bump, don’t freak out. But don’t wait months.

Most women will get the HPV virus and their body can handle it. But women with persistent HPV infections are the ones we want to identify.

I want to see a young woman three or four years after her first sexual encounter to see if her body can handle the virus.

Is she having persistent infections, which could be a predictor of cervical cancer? Those are the women we want to find, so we can treat any precancers.

For women over 30 who got the virus earlier in life, we’re testing to see if they show cells that go awry and also to determine if they’re still shedding the virus.

Q. When a woman has visible HPV warts, should she stop having sex?

A. When we’re treating women for warts, we ask them to be particularly careful and maybe even abstain from sex.

That’s because as we’re treating it, there are inflammatory changes and maybe even a little ulcer, and those tissues are more vulnerable to acquiring another infection.

So take it easy for a while or use condoms. Abstain from oral sex, too.

Q. Once you have HPV warts, are you always contagious?

A. You spread more viral particles when you have a concentration of warts. But with treatment, you rev up the body’s immune system, and it will help reduce the amount of viruses you have and spread.

You also can avoid spreading it through practicing safer sex.

Q. What’s the recommended treatment for HPV warts?

A. Get rid of the warts. We can treat fresh warts with easy topical therapies. There are three creams your doctor can prescribe for external genital warts that can be applied at home.

  • Imiquimod 5 percent (sold as Aldara), is a cream that’s applied three times a week for up to 16 weeks.
  • Imiquimod 3.75 percent (Zyclara) is a cream you use daily for up to 8 weeks.
  • Podofilox (Condylox), a prescription gel or liquid you use for 3 days and then you take off 4 days, for up to four cycles.

Q. How do these work?

A. Podofilox works by destroying the skin of the wart. The two imiquimods are really groundbreaking because they don’t play with the wart at all, but instead turn on the body’s immune system, which attacks the virus in the wart so it melts away.

These therapies have really simplified things. When a new wart comes, just put cream on it.

Q. Are there natural remedies?

A. Sinecatechins is a green tea extract, which is applied three times a day for up to 16 weeks. We’re not quite sure how it works, but some people really like the idea because it’s natural. Green tea is an antioxidant. You use it in ointment form (sold as Veregen).

Q. How are hardened warts treated?

A. If you’ve had them for a while and they’ve hardened, then you’re talking doctor-administered destructive therapies.

We can snip them off if they have a tiny base. Or we can freeze them with acids to dehydrate them and kill the cells.

For the ones that are really hard to deal with, we’ll surgically excise them or do laser treatments.

Q. Are women more likely to get HPV warts if they’re on oral contraceptives?

A. It isn’t that the pill causes more problems, but that condoms protect against HPV infection, and a woman who’s on the pill may be less likely to use condoms.

That said, if someone’s warts don’t disappear after treatment, it may be that her immune system is teetering on the edge, and the pill pushed it over.

But I would never stop prescribing a woman’s birth control pill just because she had a wart.

Q. Are HPV warts a danger during pregnancy?

A. The virus can be passed on before or during birth, but the warts don’t pose a major risk to the baby’s health.

Symptoms of genital warts can get worse during pregnancy, however, because a woman’s immune system gets suppressed.

Warts can grow so large they’ll obstruct delivery of the baby. And you have to treat the warts in a way that’s not harmful to the baby.

Q. Does the HPV vaccine protect against genital warts?

A. Yes, Gardasil 9, which is the HPV vaccine used in the United States today, as well as the original Gardasil vaccine, protect against the HPV 6 and 11, which cause 90 percent of genital warts.

Cervarix, a vaccine that is no longer available in the United States but is available elsewhere in the world, protects only against HPV type 16 and 18, which significantly raise the risk of cervical, genital, and oropharyngeal cancers. Cervarix does not protect against the strains of HPV that cause warts.

RELATED: What Are HPV 16 and 18?

Q. What are the top things a woman should keep in mind about HPV warts?

A. Use condoms and be choosy in your partners. People ought to take a good look at what they’re being exposed to when they’re getting into a relationship where there’s going to be sex. But keep in mind that a person can have the virus that causes genital warts without having visible warts.

Also, make sure you’re paying as much attention to health in your genital area as you are to other parts of your body. Some women are more in tune with the bottoms of their feet than they are with their genitalia.

Examine your genitalia and feel if there are any bumps or areas of soreness where there shouldn’t be.

And don’t hesitate to see your doctor if you do find anything.

Genital Warts (HPV)

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What Are Genital Warts?

Genital warts are warts that are on or near the vagina or penis (the genitals).

What Causes Genital Warts?

Genital warts are usually a sexually transmitted disease (STD). They’re caused by HPV (human papillomavirus). HPV also can cause some types of cancer. But the types of HPV that cause genital warts do not usually cause cancer.

What Are STDs?

STDs (also called sexually transmitted infections or STIs) are infections that spread through sex (vaginal, oral, or anal), or close sexual contact.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Genital Warts?

Many people infected with HPV never get warts. If warts do develop, they usually come within a few months. But sometimes, they show up years later.

The warts can be on or near:

  • the vulva, vagina, cervix, or anus in females
  • the penis, scrotum, or anus in males

Genital warts can be raised or flat, small or large. Sometimes they’re grouped together in a cauliflower-like shape. Some warts can be so small and flat that they’re not noticed right away.

Most of the time, genital warts are painless. Some people, though, may have itching, bleeding, burning, or pain.

How Do People Get Genital Warts?

The HPV that causes genital warts usually spreads through vaginal, oral, or anal sex or close sexual contact with the genital area. Even if there are no warts, HPV might still be active in the genital area and can spread to others.

It is not always possible for people to know when they got infected with HPV. This is because:

  • the can be in the body for months to years before warts develop
  • they might have had warts before that weren’t noticed

How Are Genital Warts Diagnosed?

Health care providers usually can diagnose genital warts by looking at them. Sometimes, doctors take a small sample of the wart to send to a lab for testing. This usually isn’t painful.

How Are Genital Warts Treated?

Treatments to remove genital warts include:

  • medicines put on or into the warts
  • lasers, cold, or heat put on the warts
  • surgery

Sometimes, warts come back after treatment. This is because the treatments can’t get rid of all of the HPV in the body.

How Long Do Genital Warts Last?

How long genital warts last can vary from person to person. Sometimes, the immune system clears the warts within a few months. But even if the warts go away, the HPV might still be active in the body. So the warts can come back. Usually within 2 years, the warts and the HPV are gone from the body.

When Is Someone With Genital Warts No Longer Contagious?

People with genital warts definitely can spread HPV. But even after the warts are gone, HPV might still be active in the body. That means it can spread to someone else through sex or close sexual contact and cause warts in that person. It’s hard to know when people are no longer contagious, because there’s no blood test that looks for HPV.

Most of the time, HPV is gone within 2 years of when someone was infected.

Can Genital Warts Be Prevented?

Genital warts and other types of HPV can be prevented by a vaccine. The HPV vaccine series is recommended for all kids when they’re 11–12 years old. Older teens and adults also can get the vaccine (up to age 45). Even if someone already has had one type of HPV infection, the HPV vaccine can protect against other types of HPV.

HPV almost always spreads through sex. So the best way to prevent it is to not have sex (vaginal, oral, or anal). If someone does decide to have sex, using a condom every time for sex (vaginal, oral, anal) helps prevent HPV and other STDs. But condoms can’t always prevent HPV because they don’t cover all areas where HPV can live.

Should Sexual Partners Be Told About Genital Warts?

Someone diagnosed with genital warts should have an honest conversation with sexual partners. Partners need to be seen by a health care provider who can check for genital warts and do screenings for other STDs.

If the couple plan to continue having sex, both people need to understand that a condom will help lower the risk of spreading genital warts/HPV but can’t completely prevent it.

Looking Ahead

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with genital warts, it is important to:

  • Know that HPV can spread to partners during sex, even if there are no warts.
  • Tell any sexual partners about the warts before having sex.
  • Use a condom every time they have sex (vaginal, oral, or anal).
  • Get tested for other STDs as recommended by your health care provider.
  • Gets all doses of the HPV vaccine.

Reviewed by: Robyn R. Miller, MD Date reviewed: December 2018

Genital Warts

What are genital warts?

Genital warts are similar to common warts but are usually found around or in the vagina, cervix (the lower part of the uterus), penis, scrotum, rectum, or the area between the vagina and rectum. They are soft, fleshy, small growths on the skin.

How do they occur?

Like other warts, genital warts are caused by a virus. The virus that causes genital warts is called human papillomavirus (HPV). There are many types of HPV. The types of virus that most often cause genital warts are called HPV-6 and HPV-11.

Genital warts are more contagious, or more easily spread, than other warts. They are spread by skin-to-skin contact. They may spread to other nearby parts of the body and they may be passed from person to person by sexual activity. The warts are usually first seen 1 to 6 months after you have been infected with HPV. However, you can be infected with HPV without having any visible warts.

HPV can cause changes in a woman’s cervix. Most of the time these changes are harmless, but sometimes the changes may cause cervical cancer.

What are the symptoms?

Genital warts are small, flesh-colored, grayish white or pinkish white growths. You may have many warts or just 1 wart. The warts usually appear as thin, flexible, solid bumps on the skin that look like small pieces of cauliflower. Some warts, however, are quite small and flat and may not be easily noticed.

In women, warts can grow in the vulva (the folds of skin around the opening of the vagina), on the cervix, inside the vagina or urethra, or around the anus. In men, warts can grow on the tip or shaft of the penis and sometimes on the scrotum, in the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body), or around the anus.

You may have no other symptoms or you may also have:

  • a bad smell, mild irritation, burning, itching, or pain in the vulva or vagina
  • pain with intercourse
  • increased vaginal discharge
  • bleeding (from injury to warts during sex)

When genital warts are on the cervix or in the vagina, they may not cause any noticeable symptoms. However, a Pap test may show changes in the cells that suggest a viral infection, or your healthcare provider may see them during the exam.

How are they diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine your genital area and the warts. Your provider may put a liquid on the skin to make it easier to see warts. An instrument called a colposcope may be used to magnify the area so your provider can look more closely at the skin or the cervix. A sample of tissue may be taken for lab tests to help confirm the diagnosis. A scope may be used to check for warts in the bladder and the urethra.

Often warts that cannot be seen are diagnosed when women have a Pap test. Sometimes an HPV-DNA test may be done to see if the type of HPV causing the warts is the type associated with cervical cancer.

How are they treated?

The main methods of treatment are:

  • putting medicine on the warts
  • surgically removing the warts
  • freezing the warts with liquid nitrogen (cryotherapy)
  • destroying the warts with a laser
  • burning off the warts using a wire loop and electric current (electrocautery)
  • waiting to see if the warts go away on their own

You may need a local anesthetic to numb the area before some of these treatments.

If you have genital warts and plan to get pregnant, get treatment for the warts before you get pregnant. If you get genital warts while you are pregnant, it is rare for the HPV to affect the baby. However, warts tend to grow and you may get more of them during the pregnancy. Usually the warts are not treated until after you deliver your baby. A cesarean delivery (C-section) will not have to be done to prevent spread to the baby. You may need to have a C-section, however, if your healthcare provider thinks the warts are so big that a vaginal delivery may cause too much bleeding. Rarely does the baby develop warts after the delivery.

How long will the effects last?

Sometimes the warts may go away without treatment. They may, however, grow and form larger cauliflower-like clusters of warts.

Removal of the warts does not get rid of the virus, although the virus becomes dormant for varying lengths of times. Because you will still have the virus after treatment, other warts can grow. Recurrence can be treated using the same methods described above.

Certain types of HPV infection of the cervix can lead, in time, to cervical cancer in women. The HPV-6 and HPV-11 types of virus, which are the usual cause of genital warts, rarely lead to cancer and are called low-risk HPVs. High-risk types of HPVs cause growths that are usually flat and nearly invisible, as compared with the warts caused by types HPV-6 and HPV-11.

How can I help take care of myself?

  • See your health care provider promptly. Genital warts are contagious, and your warts can grow and spread without treatment. Since HPV is usually a sexually-transmitted infection, other tests are recommended.
  • Inform your partner(s) of the problem so that he or she can be examined and treated.
  • Women should have a Pap test as often as their healthcare provider recommends.
  • Get follow-up exams according to your healthcare provider’s recommendations.
  • Avoid sexual activity during treatment.
  • Quit smoking. Cigarette smoking has been shown to increase the severity of warts.
  • Abstain from or limit the use of alcohol and other drugs because abuse impairs the body’s ability to fight the virus.
  • Good, nutrition, adequate sleep, regular exercise, and stress management assist the immune system in fighting the virus.
  • If you have genital warts and plan to get pregnant, have your warts checked by your provider.

How can I help prevent the spread of genital warts?

  • Keep the genital area clean and dry. You can use a hair dryer to help dry the area.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after touching the area with warts.
  • Do not scratch the warts.
  • Avoid sexual activity until the warts have completely healed.
  • Use latex condoms during intercourse. Condoms can reduce your risk of getting genital warts, but warts can spread from areas not covered by a condom.
  • Avoid having intercourse with multiple partners.

A vaccine is available to prevent types of HPV infections that are high risk for genital warts and cancer of the cervix. If you already have HPV, the vaccine will not cure your infection, but it will prevent infections with several other types of HPV.

The HPV vaccine is approved for boys, girls, men and women 9 to 26 years old. It is recommended for all girls 11 to 12 years old as part of their routine immunization schedule. It is given in 3 shots. The vaccine may protect against HPV for 5 years. Researchers are doing studies to see if a booster shot is needed after 5 years.

The vaccine is usually not given to pregnant women.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2018 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All Rights Reserved.

If one person in a heterosexual couple has human papillomavirus (HPV), there’s a 20 percent chance his or her partner will pick up the virus within six months, a new study concludes.

The study, the largest-yet analysis of HPV transmission rates, found no difference between male-to-female transmission rates and female-to-male transmission rates.

It also found no link between the number of partners in a person’s sexual past and their chances of picking up HPV from a current partner.

“There’s been very little work done on how frequently HPV transmits,” said study author Ann Burchell of McGill University in Montreal. “Most of the work on HPV has revolved around how common it is within a population.” Combining the data on transmission and frequency, she said, can help researchers get a fuller picture of how the virus spreads.

The new study was published Oct. 7 in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Catching a virus

HPV infects the genitals of both males and females, and can cause genital warts as well as cervical cancer. It’s the most common sexually transmitted virus in the U.S. — around fifty percent of sexually active adults will have HPV at some point in their lives. Most cases only last a year or two, but other cases can linger for longer and lead to cancer.

To study how often HPV spread from an infected person to an uninfected sex partner, Burchell recruited college-age women in relationships. She and her colleagues identified 179 couples in which one person was infected with HPV, but the other wasn’t. Four months after the study began, Burchell asked the couples to return to the clinic for follow-up testing and questionnaires.

When the researchers tallied the final numbers of who had been newly infected with HPV, they found that the overall probability of transmission was 20 percent over a six-month period. The couples reported having sex four times a week, on average, and 50 percent said they never used condoms.

Other smaller studies have suggested that HPV more easily spreads from females to males than from males to females. The new study, however, saw nearly identical rates of transmission.

“Our hypothesis is that female-to-male transmission may occur more often, but results in shorter infections, and by the time we saw these couples again, some of those male infections had cleared,” Burchell said.

The incremental nature of follow-up visits is a limitation of all studies that look at the natural course of a disease, said Brenda Hernandez, of the University of Hawaii Cancer Center. Hernandez has led ongoing studies looking at the transmission of HPV and how long infections last.

“Ideally, you’d want to be able to sample individuals every single day,” she said.

Researchers had also previously hypothesized that those who’ve had many sexual partners are more likely to have gained immunity to HPV — so they were thought to be less likely to pick up a new HPV infection from a current partner. When someone is infected with a virus, the body often saves antibodies to fight off the virus in the future.

The new study, however, found no correlation between the number of sex partners and immunity.

Hernandez said HPV doesn’t necessarily follow the rules when it comes to antibodies. “We’ve found that only a little over half of females who have an HPV infection develop antibodies,” she said. This lack of antibodies could explain why few people develop natural immunity to HPV.

Vaccination against HPV

In 2006, the first vaccine against HPV was approved for use in females, and in 2009, the approval was extended to males. Understanding the transmission rates of HPV, Burchell said, can help researchers understand how the vaccine should be used to stop the spread of the virus.

The more transmissible a virus is, Burchell explained, the more people in a population that need to be vaccinated to keep the virus from spreading.

“These numbers are really important to understand for vaccine program planning,” Burchell said. “The better we can understand how HPV moves around the population, the better we can control it.”

Burchell said she also wants to study further the length of infections, how antibodies against HPV affect rates and whether the amount of virus in a person’s body affects the likelihood of transmission. Continuing, detailed studies of larger populations are needed to fully understand how HPV spreads, said Hernandez. For example, her team has found that HPV can spread from one location on a person to another location without sexual contact.

“We still don’t feel that this research is at the point where it is directly translatable to public policy on how to manage HPV,” she said.

Pass it on: There’s a 20 percent probability of an HPV-infected person passing the virus to an uninfected partner if they’re in a sexual relationship for six months.

This story was provided by MyHealthNewsDaily, a sister site to LiveScience. Follow MyHealthNewsDaily on Twitter @MyHealth_MHND. Find us on Facebook.

How To Treat Genital Warts & Prevent Them From Coming Back

We at Bustle love giving you tips for how to tap into your sexual potential and troubleshoot when things aren’t going your way in the bedroom. But what about finding solutions to those stressful sexual health situations that inevitably crop up when you’re getting down? Emma Kaywin, a Brooklyn-based sexual health writer and activist, is here to calm your nerves and answer your questions. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions remain anonymous. This week’s topic: how to treat and prevent genital warts.

Q: I got diagnosed with HPV a bit ago but just got my first bout of warts. I’m wondering what to do — do they go away on their own? Is there something I can do at home to take care of them, like something over the counter or a home remedy that makes genital warts disappear? My doctor said if I got any warts to come back to the clinic and she’d burn them off, which kinda freaks me out. I’d rather not go to the doctor if I can do this myself.

A: Genital warts are a fact of life for many sexually active humans. Lots of people deal with these warts which, as their name suggests, like to live in the moist genital regions of your body.

“Genital warts are caused by the HPV virus, which is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact,” Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, MD and family physician at One Medical. This skin-to-skin contact can include the genitals, the anus and also the mouth.”

If you get one of the strains of human papillomavirus (HPV for short) that causes warts, you can get outbreaks of skin growths that are often referred to as “cauliflower-like” in your genital area (for those of us who need a visual). This doesn’t happen all the time — while the virus is living inside you all the time, you only get warts when it comes up to the top layer of your skin. There, it causes rapid growth of keratin, which is a hard protein you always have in your skin.

According to Planned Parenthood, some people only get genital warts once, and then will never get them again. Other people might have them on a recurring basis.

Sometimes, these warts are just annoying because they are unwanted skin growths in a place you really don’t want them, but other times, they are also uncomfortable and can even be painful. If you see or feel something that seems like a wart in your genital region (aka on, around or in your vulva, on or around your penis, or on or around your anus) go to your doctor to get it checked out. Once you’re diagnosed with a wart-causing strain of HPV, you can work to ensure that you don’t give it to any of your sexual partners. Since HPV is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, that means that condoms can’t 100 percent protect your lovers, but they can help a bunch.

Can You Cure Them?

An important thing to know about HPV is that it’s currently incurable, but asBhuyan says, there are treatments to eliminate genital warts. “For most people who undergo this treatment, the warts will go away and not return,” Bhuyan says. “However, in some instances, the HPV virus can linger in your body and return unexpectedly.”

So if you’re dealing with them now, what can you do about it?

How To Help Treat Them

While genital warts can go away on their own, sometimes they may get larger or grow in number. HPV can’t be cured with medicine — but there are things you can do to help your warts go away — because remember, the warts are just the visual manifestation of the viral infection.

If you’re noticing what you think are genital warts, you’ll want to make sure the lesions really are actually genital warts.

“They could also be a different STI or other skin lesions,” Bhuyan says. “Once this diagnosis is confirmed, your doctor can prescribe treatment. While you have lesions, it’s important to avoid sexual intercourse (any contact with another person’s genitals, anus, or mouth) as the warts can be contagious.”

Bhuyan says you’ll also want to stay away from over-the-counter wart removers. They are designed for use on other parts of your body, not the very tender genital skin. They can cause you to feel way worse than when you started, so steer clear.

As for treatments, you’ve got options, so be sure to talk to your doctor about which one is right for you. “There are two main treatment categories for genital warts: applying a topical medication and in-office procedures,” Bhuyan says. “Topical medications include imiquimod, which modifies our immune response, or podophyllin, which is a plant-based resin.”

Your doctor might opt to take them off by freezing or burning them. “For quicker treatment, you can also have a primary care provider apply liquid nitrogen to freeze the wart off,” Bhuyan says. “The warts can also be removed via electrocautery (burning) or simply cutting them off.”

If that’s not working, Mayo Clinic says they can be cut off surgically, too. You usually get either a local or general anesthesia when this happens, so you won’t feel it when it’s happening. Finally, your doctor can also remove the warts with lasers. This is usually a last resort for if nothing else is working, because the side effects can include scarring, whereas all other options usually just result in some discomfort. It can also be expensive.

How To Keep Them From Coming Back

Just getting rid of a wart or cluster of warts doesn’t always solve your problem, because the virus that caused the warts to begin with is still in your body. Research has found that anywhere from 30 to 70 percent of people who get their warts treated medically will get them again in around six months. While genital warts can be treated, unfortunately no medication currently exists to suppress HPV so that you won’t get another wart outbreak.

So what can you do to help prevent this resurgence? Some suggest boosting your immune system. According to dermatologist Dr. Keira L. Barr, MD and founder of Resilient Health Institute, boosting your immune function could help minimize recurrence.

Barr tells Bustle to try foods that are high in vitamin C, probiotic foods, like fermented vegetables, green leafy vegetables, and high-selenium foods to get that immune system boost.

The Bottom Line

If you have HPV, it’s truly not the end of the world — and your immune system could clear it on its own like the badass it is. But in the meantime, if you get genital warts, you can experience some discomfort or embarrassment. That’s all totally natural, and it’s understandable you might want to do something about them.

Of course, as always, you should definitely go talk to your doctor. They’ll sort you out. And then you can get back to living your fabulous life!

This piece was originally published on May 18, 2016. It was updated on July 3, 2019.

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