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Genital Warts

Genital warts form in the genital area. They usually appear as skin-colored or darker raised bumps that can be flat or rough. One wart may appear, or more often, a cluster of warts develops.

Cause

Genital warts are caused by certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV), and can be spread by sexual contact. A person who does not have a visible wart can still spread the HPV virus to others, and some people who carry the virus may never develop genital warts. It may take weeks or months for genital warts to develop after sexual contact with an infected person. People who have weakened immune systems are more likely to develop genital warts.

Diagnosis

Warts may be diagnosed by examination; sometimes a biopsy is performed to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment

  • Treatment is recommended not only to eliminate the genital warts, but also to reduce the risk of spreading the virus to others. Some strains of HPV spread through sexual contact can cause cancers of the genitals, anus or mouth and or throat.
  • Treatment options include:
    • Prescription medications such as imiquimod, sinecatechins or podofilox that can be applied at home
    • Freezing the areas with liquid nitrogen
    • Destroying the warts with laser or electrocautery
    • Injecting the warts with an antiviral medication
  • Treatment of warts may remove the visible warts, but infection with HPV can remain. One should take the following precautions:
    • Use a condom to reduce the risk of spreading the virus to others
    • Women should get PAP smears as recommended to screen for high-risk strains of HPV (forms that may cause cancer)

Prevention

The following measures can be taken to reduce the risk of contracting genital warts:

  • Get an HPV vaccine – these vaccines can be given to males and females, and are most effective if given before a person’s first sexual contact. Vaccines can protect against the forms of HPV that are most likely to cause cancer, and one of the available vaccines also protects against the two most common types of HPV that cause genital warts.
  • Using condoms – condoms significantly decrease the risk of getting an HPV infection, but as HPV can infect skin not covered by a condom, they are not 100% effective.
  • Limit sexual partners – HPV is very common and the only way to eliminate any risk of infection is to avoid all sexual activity.