What are Genital Warts?

Genital warts are caused by some types of the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is easily spread through unprotected sexual contact from one person to another, as genital warts are highly contagious. Genital warts present as small soft lumps on and/or around the genital area and anus.  Not everyone with the HPV virus has visible genital warts.

How do I know if I have the HPV Virus?

The easiest way to identify if you have genital warts is that you may notice tiny lumps or irregularities around your genital area which could be a sign of the HPV virus. As with many STD’s, the HPV virus does not always have symptoms i.e. you can be infected but not display any warts.  Approximately 90% of people infected with the HPV virus do not develop genital warts.   In women warts can develop on the inside and outside of the vagina and on the cervix.  In men, genital warts can develop on the penis and scrotum.  Both men and women can develop genital warts around their anus.   HPV has been linked with a number of cancers, and particularly with cancer of the cervix, which is why HPV can be screened for and detected when a woman has a pap smear. For anyone who thinks they might have been infected with HPV, screening is not recommended, as infection may not be significant and treatment for HPV is not available. Maintaining a healthy immune system is the best way of recovering from any viral infection.

Evidence of infection with HPV does not mean that a cancer will develop. If warts develop as a result of infection with HPV, they will eventually disappear when the body develops an immunity. If you are concerned about the cosmetic appearance of a wart, there are some treatments available ( see below). Sometimes multiple treatments are required.

Is there a treatment for the HPV Virus?

If you are diagnosed with the HPV virus your doctor will discuss with you treatment options. Unfortunately, there currently is not a treatment available to kill the HPV virus, however, there are methods that can help treat and manage genital warts.  One of the options would be to remove the genital warts using a laser, freezing or by using an electric current. Another option maybe a treatment that you can apply at home, your doctor will provide you with a prescription for this treatment.   Never use off the shelf wart treatments from the pharmacy to treat genital warts, a prescription is required to obtain the correct treatment.  In worst case scenarios where the warts are large and in big clumps, it may be necessary to remove these during surgery.   It is important that you seek medical advice in regards to the best management of genital warts and this will depend upon other health factors.

Management of the HPV Virus

A healthy immune system can help you recover from many viruses. Good diet, plenty of rest and a healthy lifestyle will help. Some conditions mean that your immune system is compromised e.g. HIV or treatments with steroids or chemotherapy.  HPV, like other viruses can be more troublesome in people with weakened immune systems.

If you have genital warts, you should avoid sexual contact until they have been successfully treated.  Even if genital warts disappear, you could still be carrying the HPV virus which means that there is a chance that the genital warts could return.   For maintenance of good sexual health, safe sex with a condom is always recommended, which also helps prevent transmission of all types of sexually transmitted infection.

Unfortunately having been exposed to the HPV virus can increase your risk of getting cervical, penile, mouth /throat and rectal cancer.  Most people who are or have been sexually active will have been exposed to HPV.