What is it?
Genital Warts are caused by an infection of the skin of the genital and anal area with the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). There are over 100 different types of HPV which can affect different parts of the body, including the hands and feet. Approximately 30 types of HPV can live in and around the genital and anal areas but most genital warts are caused by just two types of virus (types 6 and 11) which do not cause cancer.
How do I get it?
The virus that causes genital warts is easily passed from one person to another through sexual contact.
- Anyone who’s having sex can get the virus and pass it on to others.
- Genital warts can spread from one person to another during vaginal or anal sex.
- The virus can be spread by skin to skin contact so it can be passed on by close genital contact. You don’t need to have penetrative sex (vaginal or anal) to pass it on.
- The virus won't pass through a condom but as condoms don't cover all of the genital area it's possible to infect genital skin that's not covered by the condom.
- The virus is more likely to be passed on when warts are present but it's still possible to pass the virus on after warts have disappeared.
- It's possible, but very rare, to develop warts in the mouth or throat, or on the lips from oral sex.
- Warts can be easily spread from the genital area to the area around the anus without having anal sex.
- If you’re pregnant and have genital warts at the time, it’s possible to pass the virus to the baby at birth, but this is rare.
- You can't get genital warts from kissing, hugging, sharing baths or towels, from swimming pools, toilet seats or from sharing cups, plates or cutlery
Signs and Symptoms
Most people with HPV infection/Genital Warts won’t develop visible warts and the virus will go away on its own. This means you may not know whether you or a partner have the virus.
If warts do appear, this can happen from three weeks to many months, or even years, after coming into contact with the virus. You might notice small, fleshy growths, bumps or skin changes which may appear anywhere in or on the genital or anal area.
The main check for genital warts is for a doctor or nurse to look at the warts. They may do this using a magnifying lens. You may also need an internal examination of the vagina or anus to see if there are any warts inside. There’s no routine blood test for the virus.
You’ll only be offered treatment if you have visible warts. The treatment will depend on what the warts look like, how many you have and where they are.
The aim of treatment is to remove visible warts. How effective the treatment is varies and depends on the size and type of warts, the treatment that’s used and how good your immune system is at fighting the virus.
Some people don't need treatment or they choose not to have any. However, for most people, having treatment is likely to make the warts go away more quickly. As genital warts are caused by a virus and not bacteria, antibiotics won't get rid of warts.
Visible warts can be removed in a number of different ways.
- Putting cream or a liquid on to the warts (for a few days each week). This can usually be done by yourself at home. Some people ask a partner to apply the cream or liquid for them. You may have to apply this treatment for a number of weeks.
- Freezing (cryotherapy).
- Heat (electrocautery), using local anaesthetic.
- Surgery, using local anaesthetic.
- Laser treatment, using local anaesthetic.
Further Guidance: Genital Warts