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What Are Genital Warts?

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What are Genital Warts?

Genital warts are small fleshy growths or bumps that appear around the genitals or anus. Genital warts are the physical results of a viral skin infection that is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).Genital warts are generally painless and do not pose a serious threat to a person’s health.

What is HPV?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the name for a family of around 120 strains of virus. Around 40 of these different strains can cause genital warts. Other strains are responsible for skin warts and verrucas, anal and vaginal cancer and cervical cancer.

Do genital warts cause cervical cancer?

No. The strain of HPV that causes cervical cancer is different to the one that causes genital warts.

Do genital warts go away?

Some people who catch HPV do not actually get any warts. Your body can fight off the virus and you will experience no symptoms. However, if you see or feel a wart around your genitals or anus it probably won’t get better without treatment.

What is the standard genital warts treatment?

There are two main methods for the treatment of genital warts: topical treatments such as creams and lotions and physical ablation which is the physical destruction of the wart tissue using outside forces.

Topical treatments use chemicals to treat genital warts. Podophyllotoxin is applied in liquid form to the wart and works by damaging the cell structure of the wart. Imiquimod is a cream that works by helping to stimulate your immune system into attacking the warts. Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) works by destroying the proteins inside the cells of the wart.

Physical ablation treatments include: cryotherapy, which uses liquid nitrogen to freeze the wart; and excision, a minor surgical procedure where the wart is cut away using a scalpel. Electrosurgery and laser surgery are sometimes used to treat large warts or those located in places that are harder to access, such as inside the anus or urethra.

Can I get a genital warts treatment over the counter?

Recommended treatments for genital warts are not available over the counter. There are countless genital wart treatments advertised online, most of which are ineffective and some can actually be harmful. Normal wart creams are not effective on genital warts. Normal wart removal creams often contain salicylic acid that can seriously irritate or damage sensitive skin around the genital area.

How are genital warts transmitted?

Genital warts are usually transmitted by sexual contact but can also be passed by non-penetrative genital-to-genital contact.

There have been suggestions that the HPV virus that causes genital warts can be transmitted if one person has an infection in their hands and touches somebody else’s genitals. Alternatively, the virus might be spread through contact with infected materials such as towels or bedding. These theories remain unproven.

How do I protect against catching genital warts?

Using condoms every time you have sex is the most effective method but does not provide 100% protection. Warts can be present outside of the area covered by a condom (such as the scrotum) and be transmitted through contact. It’s best not to share sex toys but, if you do, it's really important to wash them and use condoms on the sex toy as well.

Taking these precautions also lowers the risk of catching other STIs such as Herpes, Gonorrhea and HIV.

There is a vaccination for HPV using a drug called Gardasil that is recommended for young, sexually active people. The vaccination helps protect against a range of HPV strains including the ones that cause genital warts and cervical cancer.

Can HPV be cured?

Yes. Whilst there is no medication that can cure HPV, in a lot of cases your body will rid itself of the virus naturally. This can often take 1 to 2 years from the first infection.



10593 March 2012

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