Genital warts

Genital warts are lumps caused by an overgrowth of skin cells which are infected with human papillomavirus (HPV). They can occur anywhere on the genitals, around the anus or inside the vagina. 

There are over 100 types of HPV virus but types 6 and 11 cause almost all genital warts. HPV is the most common sexually transmissible infection and most people will contract one or more types soon after becoming sexually active; however, only a small number of the people infected will develop warts.

How do you get genital warts

The virus is transmitted by skin to skin contact during sex. Because there is more virus around when people have warts, HPV is most likely to be spread then. 

However the virus can be present in normal looking skin and be passed on.

Using a condom is an important way of preventing infection. But because warts may not be covered by the condom, it may not give 100% protection.

Other problems it can cause

Warts do not cause any other problems and will spontaneously resolve in most people eventually.

Some other types of HPV can cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, penis and anus. Cervical cancer screening programs (Pap tests) can find these types of HPV before they cause cancer. 

Any abnormal lump or sore on the genitals or anus that doesn’t go away by itself needs to be reviewed by a doctor or nurse.

Every 2 years, sexually active women should have a Pap smear test to look for signs of HPV infection or cell changes that could lead to cancer.

Tests

Warts have a characteristic appearance and do not require testing for a diagnosis, occasionally a biopsy may be required if the doctor is unsure. 

Tests for HPV are used in managing women who have abnormal Pap tests but are not used to diagnose genital warts.

Treatment

In almost all cases, genital warts will eventually go away without treatment, but this could take a long time. There is a range of treatments which can remove the visible warts more quickly.

A doctor or nurse can prescribe paints and creams that you apply yourself.  Alternatively the warts can be treated by freezing or burning. All treatments are equally effective.

 The warts may persist for several weeks and can often recur.

There is no treatment for the HPV virus but in most people their immune system will eventually clear the virus.

Prevention

Condoms make it much less likely a person will catch or pass on the HPV virus. There is a new vaccine available that protects against the 4 types of virus causing most genital warts and cancers. 

It works best if given before a person starts having sex. For more information ask a doctor or nurse.

Contact

For more information contact the Centre for Disease Control's Clinic 34.

Last updated: 28 November 2017