What are genital warts?
Warts are caused by a virus called Human Papilloma Virus (H.P.V.). and they can occur anywhere on the body. When they appear on the sexual organs they are known as genital warts and when they appear around the back passage they are known as anal warts.
H.P.V. is the name of a group of viruses that include more than 60 different types, some types of the virus cause the common skin wart, such as those that appear on your hands or as a verruca on the feet.
How are genital warts passed on?
Genital warts are very contagious and are passed from one person to another during sex (anal or vaginal) with an infected person, or by skin-to-skin contact. It’s also possible for the virus to be passed on when no warts are on the skin. People who have many sexual partners put themselves at a higher risk of catching genital warts.
Genital warts are not usually passed on from warts on other parts of the body e.g. from hands and feet. Though very rare, it is possible to develop warts around the mouth, after oral sex with a person infected with genital warts.
How can I prevent genital warts?
If a person has genital warts, sex should be avoided until the warts have cleared up. If a condom is used properly and totally covers the affected area (where warts are present) you are less at risk of catching genital warts. To prevent catching genital warts and other sexually transmitted diseases, condoms should always be used.
What are the signs and symptoms of genital warts?
Genital warts are pinkish/white growths or small lumps. Warts may be raised or flat, on their own or in a group and can cluster together to form a larger cauliflower shape on the genital area. Warts can appear on the, and the in women and on the , and groin in men. Both men and women can also develop warts around the back passage. It usually takes 1-3 months from infection for warts to appear, not everyone who comes into contact with the virus will develop warts and some people do not even know they have it. Usually warts are not painful though they may irritate and cause discomfort.
Occasionally, warts may cause symptoms such as itching, pain or bleeding in the genital area.
How are genital warts diagnosed?
You will normally be able to check yourself for the presence of warts. If you have any unusual lumps on your genital area you should visit your doctor or a G.U.M. clinic to have them checked.
The doctor will first examine the affected area. To look for warts that may be invisible the doctor will swab the skin with dilute acetic acid, any warts will then stand out on the skin as white patches. In women, the doctor will also want to look for possible infection of the cervix, a magnifying instrument called a colposcope is used to view the cervix in detail.
Are genital warts easily treated?
The symptoms of warts can be treated with a few different treatments. One type of treatment available is ‘painting’ . It is called painting because, a brown liquid called ‘podophyllin’ is painted on the affected area, this method should not be used when pregnant. The other types of treatment available are a laser method, using an intense light to destroy the wart and a freezing method, to freeze the wart. The aims of the treatment are to get rid of visible warts and reduce the amount of virus.
Never try to treat genital warts by yourself, always visit a doctor or a G.U.M. clinic for advice and treatment. Everyone is different and it may take several visits to the clinic to get rid of the warts. Though these methods will remove visible genital warts, the underlying H.P.V. infection can’t be cured. The virus stays in your body and can cause warts to appear in the future.
How can genital warts affect me in the future?
Scientists have found a link between several types of H.P.V. and the development of, cervical cancer and penile cancer. Although most H.P.V. infections do not progress to cancer, it is particularly important for women who have had genital warts to have regular smear tests. If you have genital warts it may cause your smear test to be abnormal. For more information on cervical cancer and the smear test click here.
Genital warts may cause a number of problems during pregnancy. Sometimes warts can enlarge during pregnancy, making urinating difficult. If warts are present on the vagina they can make it less elastic and cause obstruction during delivery. In rare cases pregnant women can spread the infection to their child during birth.