What Causes Genital Warts?
Genital warts are caused by the human papilloma virus. There are more than 100 types of Human papillomavirus (HPV), one third of which are spread through sexual contact.
How Many People have Genital Warts?
HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, it is estimated that there are 5.5 million new cases of HPV in the US each year. At least 20 million Americans are infected already.
What do Genital Warts look like?
Genital warts are small, fleshy, pinkish-white cauliflower-shaped growths. Men infected with HPV do not get the warts as often as women do. When they do, the warts are usually on the tip of the penis, but may also appear on the shaft. Warts can also appear on the scrotum or around the anus (warts may spread to the area around the anus even without anal sex as a cause). Sometimes the warts can be seen around and in the mouth and throat of those who have had oral sex with an infected person. For pictures of genital warts click here.
Can You be Infected by HPV But Not Have Symptoms or Genital Warts?
Yes. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has said that nearly half of the women infected with HPV had no obvious symptoms. Just because you do not have obvious symptoms does not mean you cannot infect others. Once you become infected, it can take up to three months for the genital warts to appear.
How are Genital Warts Diagnosed?
Not all warts are obvious to the naked eye. The doctor or health worker may apply a solution of weak vinegar-like solution which causes any warts to turn white. An internal examination of the anus may be carried out to check for hidden warts. If you believe you have been in contact with HPV, even if you do not have any warts, see a doctor who will be able to advise you on treatment.
What is the Treatment for Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and Genital Warts?
Unfortunately, like most viruses, there is no treatment that will get rid of the virus itself. The genital warts can be treated, however they may reappear at a later stage. Research is currently in progress on a vaccine to prevent infection or disease such as the genital warts and the pre-cancerous tissue changes which are discussed later in the article.
The treatments should not be painful but if they are, consult your doctor or health advisor. If your partner is pregnant, she should not use the podophyllin or 5-fluorouracil treatments. Small warts can be surgically treated by laser treatment, cryosurgery (freezing them off) or electrocautery (burning them off).The anti-viral drug alpha-interferon can also be used and is injected directly into the warts, however the drug is very expensive and seems to have little effect on preventing recurrence of the warts. You may require more than one type of treatment to make the warts go away permanently.
How can I Prevent Being Infected by Genital Warts or Infecting Others?
The only way to prevent getting genital warts is to avoid all direct contact with the virus. As previously mentioned, there is no treatment currently available for the HPV virus itself. The genital warts, a symptom of the disease, do respond to treatment, but they usually do recur. Treatment for genital warts should be sought and completed before having sexual contact. Both you and your partner will require treatment and advice.
Can Condoms Prevent Genital Wart Infection?
Condoms will provide some protection as long as the condom covers the area affected by warts. It has also been suggested that condoms covering the affected area will help reduce the risks of cervical cancer linked to HPV. Good hygiene is important. Keep your genitals clean and dry and do not use scented soaps and bath oils, as these may irritate the warts. If your partner uses vaginal deodorants she should know that this too can be an irritant.
Can HPV and Genital Warts Cause Complications?
Yes. Some types of HPV can cause anal and penis cancer, as well as vulvar and cervical cancer. It is important that if your partner has abnormal cervical cells, detected in a PAP test, that she has regular pelvic examinations and further PAP tests so that any cancer can be treated as quickly as possible. (Early detection of cancer increases cure rates).