What are Genital Warts?

What are Genital Warts?

Genital Warts is a common sexually transmitted infection caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and is passed on through having sexual contact with someone who has the virus. There are over 100 different types of HPV but two common types cause around 90% of all genital warts - these are types 6 and 11.

Not everyone who has the virus will develop genital warts. For the majority of people, with or without symptoms, the virus can be cleared from the body over time and is rare for genital warts to cause any long-term health problems. 
Warts can appear months or even years after being infected and most people who have the virus may not develop any warts at all.  

Public Health England official statistics show that as a result of the HPV programme in school, first diagnoses in genital warts have been steadily declining since 2014 when the HPV vaccine was first introduced.
In 2019 in girls and hetrosexual boys, there were the following reported cases in the UK

  • 15-17 year old girls - 149 first episode genital warts - 23% decrease from 2018.
  • 15-17 year old boys - 90 first episode genital warts - 11% decrease from 2018. 

Let’s explore the symptoms and treatment of genital warts, the HPV programme and how we can protect ourselves from catching this common sexually transmitted infection.


What are the symptoms of Genital Warts?

Some people with the HPV virus may not develop visible warts at all and the virus will go away on its own. Sometimes, this may mean that you do not know whether your partner or yourself have the virus. 

If warts do appear, you may notice them from three weeks to months or even years after coming into contact with the virus. The warts may appear as small, fleshy growths or bumps which may appear anywhere in or around the genital or anal area. Warts can appear on their own or in clusters of groups (that may look like a cauliflower) and are usually painless but may occasionally itch and cause inflammation. 

If you have female genitalia:
  • Warts may be found on the labia (the lips around the opening to the vagina), cervix (entrance to the uterus) and inside the vagina.

  • Warts can also be found on the upper thighs as well as in and around the anus.

If you have male genitalia:

Black Man with Itch

  • Warts may be found on the penis, scrotum and urethra (the tube where urine comes out).

  • Warts can also be found on the upper thighs as well as in and around the anus.


What is the treatment for Genital Warts?

Primarily, treatment tends to be for cosmetic purposes only. The type of treatment you will be offered will depend on what the warts look like and where on your body they appear. 

Treatments include:
  • Cream or liquid: you can usually apply this to the warts yourself (or ask your partner too) every few days for several weeks. These treatments can cause pain, irritation or a burning sensation.
  • Surgery: a doctor or nurse may cut, burn or use a laser to remove the warts. This can cause pain, irritation or scarring.
  • Freezing (also known as cryotherapy): a doctor or nurse freezes the warts. This treatment can be repeated several times.
  • Heat: using local anaesthetic.
It may take weeks or months for the treatment to work and unfortunately, warts can recur after treatment. In some people, the treatment does not work, however, it’s also possible for your body to fight the virus over time.

You may be advised to avoid sex until all the warts have cleared up. This is mainly to protect the treated area of skin from friction and to help it heal.

What HPV types cause the majority of genital warts?

HPV types 6 and 11 cause the majority of genital warts. These do not cause cancer.

The two types of HPV that are linked to cervical cancer are HPV types 16 and 18. These types can cause cell changes that may lead to cancer and are responsible for 70% of cervical cancer cases in the UK.

The HPV Programme

 

HPV Injection

The HPV programme began in 2014 to reduce the number of HPV cases in the UK. A vaccination is given that offers immunity against types 6,11,16 and 18 of the HPV virus.
Initially, the programme was only offered to girls aged 12-13 (in year 8)  as well as MSM (men who have sex with men) up to 45 years of age. From September 2019, boys aged 12-13 have also been offered the vaccination as health departments have agreed that vaccinating boys is essential to increase HPV protection for everyone.

How can I prevent myself from catching Genital Warts?

Condoms! Condoms reduce the risk of catching sexually transmitted infections by preventing any sexual fluids from being transferred. By using a condom (or dam) every time you have vaginal, anal or oral sex reduces the risk of contracting an STI. We have a wide variety of condoms available from regular, king, super king or trim as well as flavoured and fun condoms so there’s plenty of variety available. Unsure which condom to choose? Open this link 'in a new window' here What type of condom should I buy?
As well as ensuring you or your partner wear condoms, getting a sexual health screen on a regular basis (we recommend annually or on change of a sexual partner) will help reduce the risk of catching and passing the infection on. 

To find out more about Genital Warts, go to NHS UK

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