Genital Warts

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Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and are small fleshy bumps, or skin changes that appear on and around the genital or the anal area. Warts can be treated; however, there is no cure for this condition and new warts can appear from time to time.

How are genital warts passed on?

The most common way for HPV to be passed on from person to person is through skin-to-skin contact. This is usually through sexual activity such as: 

  • Vaginal sex
  • Anal sex
  • Sharing sex toys
  • Non-penetrative genital to genital contact  
  • In rare cases, oral sex.

HPV is not passed on through kissing, hugging or sharing towels, clothing and everyday items such as cutlery or toilet seats. 

A condom can help protect against genital warts but the virus may still be passed on by the surrounding genital areas coming into contact.

Using condoms male or female every time you have vaginal or anal sex is the most effective way to avoid genital warts. 

The protection offered by condoms is not 100%. As HPV is spread through skin-to- skin contact, it is possible for the skin around your genital area not covered by the condom to become infected. 

If you have oral sex, cover the penis with a condom. A dental dam, can be used to cover the anal area or female genitals. 

If using sex toys, wash them or cover them with a condom before anyone else uses them. 

How do I know if I have genital warts?

Most people who have HPV infection will not develop any visible warts. If genital warts do appear, it can be several weeks; months or years after you first came into contact with the virus. 

They can appear on their own, or in clusters of multiple warts. If they are inside the anus or inside the vagina or on the cervix you may not know they are there. 

Warts in Women

The most common places for genital warts to develop in women are:

  • Around the vulva
  • On the cervix
  • Inside the vagina
  • Around and inside the anus
  • On the upper thighs

Warts in men

The most common place for genital warts to develop in men are:

  • Anywhere on the penis
  • On the scrotum
  • Inside the urethra
  • Around or inside the anus
  • On the upper thighs 

How can genital warts be treated?

You will be only be offered treatment if you have visible warts. Treatment for warts depends on the type of warts you have and where they are located.

There are two main types of treatment:

  • Applying a cream, lotion or chemical to the warts.
  • Destroying the tissue of the warts by freezing, heating or removing them.

Should I test for genital warts?

If you think you have warts, or your partner has them, visit your local sexual health or GUM clinic. 

There is no test for genital warts but it’s easy for a doctor or nurse to diagnose by examining the affected area. 

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