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What Are Genital Warts and Who Gets Them?
Genital warts often occur around the genital and anal areas of the skin. They’re caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a sexually-transmitted infection. There are over 100 types of HPV, but only a few cause genital warts. People catch genital warts through sex, oral sex or genital-to-genital contact. The virus can be passed to both opposite and same-sex partners. Some people with HPV don’t develop genital warts, but can still spread the virus to others. Since this is a contagious disease, it’s important that those diagnosed with HPV tell partners before sexual contact.
Approximately 79 million Americans are infected with HPV, with 14 million more becoming infected each year. Most sexually-active people will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives, but most won’t know it and can spread the virus without realizing it. Those with a weak immune system may have more trouble fighting the virus. When the body can’t effectively fight HPV, genital warts can develop – perhaps not for weeks, months or longer after sexual contact with an infected person. While rare, a women with genital HPV can pass the virus to her baby during delivery.
For women, genital warts typically appear in the external genitalia and for men, they commonly appear on the penis, scrotum and thighs. Warts can also form inside the vagina, anus, mouth or throat, as well as on the lower abdomen and buttocks. Most of the time, these warts are skin-colored or a bit darker, raised or flat, smooth or rough and varied in size.
The types of HPV that cause genital warts are not the same as the types of HPV that can cause cancers. But some types of HPV that spread through sexual contact can cause a cancer inside or on the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus, throat and mouth.
A board certified dermatologist can examine your warts to diagnose. In some cases, the wart or part of it may be removed to examine and confirm the diagnosis. Several options may be recommended for treatment, depending on your health, number of warts and location of warts. Medicines such as podofilox (to stop wart cell growth), imiquimod (to boost the immune system) or sinecatechins (to clear the warts) may be prescribed. Procedures like freezing warts off with liquid nitrogen, cutting them out or destroying with electrotherapy may also be recommended. Or if those are unsuccessful, injecting an antiviral into the wart is another option.
Genital warts rarely clear up without treatment. Treatment can help alleviate discomfort and reduce the risk of spreading the virus to others. These warts can look similar to other growths, as well as cancer. Early diagnosis from a dermatologist can confirm what the growth is and identify the best treatment options. Do not treat genital warts without a medical diagnosis. Do not use medication for common warts on genital warts. See a dermatologist for the best recommended course of treatment.
Treatment may not get rid of the entire HPV infection. If HPV still remains, it can be spread to other people or cause issues like HPV-related cancer. After receiving treatment for genital warts, get tested for other sexually-transmitted diseases and if warts extend into the anal canal, an anoscopy may be needed. For women who’ve had genital warts, getting recommended pap smears is important. These can help detect early changes in the cervix, which can be a result of cervical cancer.
Preventing Genital Warts