Genital warts are caused by certain viruses of the human papilloma family (HPV). HPV can be dangerous for women due to some types of HPV that can lead to cancer of the cervix and vulva.
Genital warts are similar to the kind of warts you can get on any other part of the body. They are very common and they are usually painless but can be itchy.
Only around 10% of people exposed to the virus will get genital warts.
Genital warts are spread through sexual activity, including vaginal, anal and oral sex, as well as the sharing of sex toys. A person can be infected for several weeks or months before they begin to develop warts, or may not develop them at all.
Most cases are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) of which there are 30 to 40 strains; only a few strains of HPV cause genital warts.
Genital warts are not always visible to the naked eye. They can be very small and the same colour as the person’s skin.
They appear as small white or pink cauliflower-like warts, and can be smooth or rough to the touch, they can appear as just one wart or a group of warts.
For females they usually appear:
- inside the vagina or anus
- outside of the vagina or anus
- on the cervix.
For males they usually appear
- on the penis
- inside or around the anus
Even if the warts are not visible they can lead to other symptoms such as bleeding, burning, itching and vaginal discharge.
It is important to tell your doctor or a health professional if you’re pregnant and you think you may have genital warts.
Some treatments for genital warts are not suitable for pregnant women, treatment may need to be delayed until after the child is born.
Even if you are trying to get pregnant you should tell your doctor so they can safely pick a treatment that won’t harm a developing baby.
Testing for genital warts involves a basic examination of the genital area.
If you are trying to get pregnant you should tell your doctor so they can safely pick a treatment that won’t harm a developing baby.
Treatments for genital warts are prescribed by a doctor. The type of treatment you get depends on your warts and the area affected.
Typical treatments are:
- cream or liquid
It can take weeks or months for the warts to clear, and they may come back. Treatment does not always work in all people.
It is not possible to fully protect yourself against genital warts, but you can do things to lower the risk of catching it. You should always use a condom for vaginal, oral or anal sex.
The best way to prevent getting genital warts as with all sexually transmitted infections is to practice safer sex.