Genital warts are small, hard, lumps in the anal or genital area that are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). There are over 200 strains of HPV that affect the human body. Some only affect particular parts of the body, some cause visible warts while some do not cause warts, and some cause cancer, such as cervical cancer.
People start becoming exposed to genital HPV once they become sexually active. There are over 40 types of HPV strains that can be transmitted to the genital area. Over 90% of adults carry at least one strain of genital HPV in their body and 45% of adults will have a detectable strain at any one time.
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- Genital skin to skin contact (e.g. penis/balls to vulva, vulva to vulva, penis to penis, anus to balls).
- The virus is highly contagious if a wart is visible or if the skin on the wart has been broken.
- Transmitting HPV from the genital area to the mouth is also possible though is very uncommon. However, there is growing evidence that HPV infection in the mouth and throat, transmitted through oral sex, is a major cause of throat cancer.
- Only the skin area covered by the condom, glove or dam is protected from the virus.
Signs and Symptoms
- Found on the vulva, penis and around the anus.
- Raised hard skin lumps, maybe cauliflower shaped, or flat and smooth. They are usually painless.
- Warts can be single growths or in groups, which vary in size.
- Not seen by the naked eye and are extremely common.
- Present on the vulva, vagina, cervix, penis, foreskin, balls, around the anus and in the rectum.
- Sometimes HPV on the cervix can cause abnormal bleeding, sometimes during vaginal sex. Contact your local sexual health clinic or a doctor if this is occurring
- People may not be aware they have anal or genital warts, as they are usually painless.
- There are many treatments to remove warts depending on the size, number and location of warts. The most common treatment is the self-application of a paint called podophyllin (particularly if warts are easy to reach). This is best suited for external warts.
- Other treatments include freezing (cryotherapy), immune boosting creams or laser or surgical removal.
- Sometimes warts disappear spontaneously without treatment as a result of the body’s own immune defen
- Removing the warts does not ‘cure’ HPV, though reduces its contagiousness. Recurrence rates are common.
Some types of HPV may lead to pre-cancerous skin cell changes on the cervix. Regular Pap tests will detect the wart virus on the cervix and early treatment will substantially reduce the risk of cervical cancer. From May 2017, new cervical screen tests will be able to detect the presence of HPV that cause abnormal cell changes before the development of cancer.
Condoms and dams provide some protection from HPV transmission during sex; however, it cannot provide complete protection because condoms only protect the skin inside the shaft of the penis and dams only protect the parts covering the mouth, vagina or anus. Direct skin contact with exposed skin areas (such as testicles, vulva and buttocks) transmits the virus at any time during sex. There is always a risk of HPV transmission for any sexually active person. This cannot be avoided no matter how careful you may be.
People who haven’t come into contact with HPV types 6 and 11 (which cause up to 90% of genital warts cases) or 16 and 18 (which cause up to 70% of cervical cancer cases) may want to consider having a Gardasil vaccination. Gardasil won’t cure an existing infection and it doesn’t provide protection against every type of HPV, but it will provide protection against the four most dangerous types. Talk to a doctor for more information. HPV vaccination is also part of the National Immunisation Program for children in schools.