Genital Warts

Genital Warts
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Genital warts are one of the many diseases caused by HPV. The best known HPV illness is cervical cancer. However, that's not the only disease HPV infection can cause. HPV can also cause sexually-transmitted throat cancers, penile cancer, and other infections in both women and men -- including genital warts.

There are over 100 different types of HPV. However, they can be divided into two basic categories based on whether they are low- or high- risk.

Low-risk HPV causes benign infections such as genital warts. High-risk HPV is associated with a variety of genital and non-genital cancers. Both types of HPV are spread by skin to skin contact.

Symptoms of Genital Warts

Genital warts are soft growths in the genital area. They tend to be either white or flesh-colored. The warts can appear either singly or in large batches. The growths can be either raised or flat. Other symptoms of genital warts include:

  • itching
  • increased discharge
  • bleeding after sex
  • a feeling of moisture in the area of the warts

Treatment of Genital Warts

Genital warts should only be treated by your doctor. Under no circumstances should you use over-the-counter wart treatments to try to remove genital warts. Doctors have a variety of choices for treating genital warts. Options including cryotherapy, laser vaporization, and various topical drugs. Cryotherapy uses liquid nitrogen or another cold delivery system to freeze off warts.

The topical drugs work in a number of different ways.

It is important to know that treating the symptoms does not remove the virus. Therefore, you may still be infectious after your warts are gone. Recurrences of genital warts are not uncommon. Unfortunately, there is no commercial HPV test that can show when you have cleared the infection.

There are tests for HPV. However, these tests are primarily used to detect high-risk virus in cervical samples.

Prevention of Genital Warts

The only surefire way to avoid genital warts is to abstain from sexual intercourse. This is particularly true since HPV infection can be free of symptoms and is not tested for during STD screenings. However, there are also other steps you can take to reduce your risk.

Gardasil and Gardasil 9 are two of the three commercial HPV vaccines. Each protects against two of the most common types of wart-causing HPV. (More than 100 types of HPV have been identified, not all of which are sexually transmitted.) Reliably using the male or female condom may also reduce your risk. However, just using condoms will not eliminate risk. HPV spreads from skin-to-skin contact, and not all infected skin will necessarily be covered by a prophylactic.

A Word from Verywell

Not all HPV infections cause symptoms. In fact, many people are infected with HPV and don't even know it.

Furthermore, even the vast majority of symptomatic infections go away within two years.

In short, HPV infection is not a reason to panic. Still, it's worth doing what you can to prevent HPV. That means consistently practicing safe sex. It may also mean getting vaccinated against HPV. Both Gardasil and Gardasil 9 protect against the two most common types of low-risk, wart-causing HPV. Cervarix does not directly protect against wart-causing HPV. However, it may offer some cross protection. 

Sources

Asadi N, Hemmati E, Namazi G, Jahromi MP, Sarraf Z, Pazyar N, Salehi A. A Comparative Study of Potassium Hydroxide versus CO2 Laser Vaporization in The Treatment of Female Genital Warts: A Controlled Clinical Trial. Int J Community Based Nurs Midwifery. 2016 Jul;4(3):274-82

Canvin M, Sinka K, Hughes G, Mesher D. Decline in genital warts diagnoses among young women and young men since the introduction of the bivalent HPV (16/18) vaccination programme in England: an ecological analysis. Sex Transm Infect. 2016 Jun 30. pii: sextrans-2016-052626. doi: 10.1136/sextrans-2016-052626.

Karnes JB, Usatine RP. Management of external genital warts. Am Fam Physician. 2014 Sep 1;90(5):312-8. 

Lam JU, Rebolj M, Dugué PA, Bonde J, von Euler-Chelpin M, Lynge E. Condom use in prevention of Human Papillomavirus infections and cervical neoplasia: systematic review of longitudinal studies. J Med Screen. 2014 Mar;21(1):38-50. doi: 10.1177/0969141314522454.

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