Genital warts are a common infection that is transmitted through sexual contact with someone who is infected with the human papillomavirus, also known as HPV. Genital warts can appear alone or in groups. They appear, as the name indicates, in the genital areas of both men and women and look like the common warts that appear elsewhere: that is, small, roundish and rough or bumpy.
Though there are over 40 strains of HPV, almost all genital warts are caused by strains 6 and 11, which are associated with the occurrence of warts in other moist areas of the body, such as the nasal passages, the mouth and the larynx.
Though not usually painful, genital warts have the potential for other complications. Research has shown a link between genital HPV infection and the occurrence of cervical cancer. Another complication can occur during pregnancy when warts on the vaginal wall inhibit the elasticity of the vaginal tissue during childbirth.
What are the symptoms?
Genital warts appear small, roundish, bumpy and rough. In men, they appear most often on the tip or shaft of the penis, on the scrotum, and in or on the anus. Women may discover genital warts on the vulva, the vaginal walls, between the anus and the vagina, the anus and the cervix. Genital warts may also be transmitted into or around the mouth through oral sex.
Other symptoms of genital warts include bleeding during intercourse and/or itching in the genital area.
Who gets it?
At least 50 percent of all sexually active people will become infected with genital HPV in their lifetime. Women are at a slightly higher risk of contracting genital warts than are men. There are several circumstances that can increase the chances of contracting genital warts, including:
Unprotected intercourse with multiple partners
Intercourse with someone who is infected with HPV
Initiating sexual activity at a relatively young age
Usually, the body’s immune system will kill the HPV virus responsible for genital warts. When it does not, there are several treatment options, including:
Medications such as Imiquimod, Podophyllin, podofilox, and Trichloroacetic acid
Freezing with liquid nitrogen (cryotherapy)
Electrocautery, which burns off genital warts