Genital warts 

Introduction 

Genital warts

Dermatologist Dr Rhonda Mays explains the causes and symptoms of genital warts, how to avoid passing them on to others and what treatment options are available.

Media last reviewed: 23/04/2014

Next review due: 23/04/2016

HPV vaccinations

HPV vaccines in the UK are offered to all girls in year 8 (aged 12 to 13 years).

Since September 2012, the vaccine Gardasil has been used and can help protect against HPV types 6 and 11, which cause around 90% of genital warts. It also protects against types 16 and 18, which are linked to more than 70% of cases of cervical cancer in the UK.

Before September 2012, a different vaccine called Cervarix was used to protect against HPV types 16 and 18.

HPV vaccines cannot protect against all types of HPV. If you are a woman and have received HPV vaccinations, you should still attend cervical screening (smear tests) as the vaccines do not guarantee that you will not develop cervical cancer in the future.

Read more about cervical screening.

Genital warts are small fleshy growths, bumps or skin changes that appear on or around the genital or anal area.

Genital warts are very common. In England, they are the second most common type of sexually transmitted infection (STI) after chlamydia.

Genital warts are the result of a viral skin infection caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). They are usually painless and do not pose a serious threat to health.

But they can be unpleasant to look at and cause psychological distress.

There is no evidence that your fertility will be affected by genital warts.

Read more about the symptoms of genital warts.

The human papillomavirus (HPV)

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is not a single virus, but a family of more than 100 different strains of viruses. Different strains usually affect different parts of the body, including the hands or feet.

Although around 30 different types of HPV can affect the genital skin, most cases of infection with HPV cause no visible symptoms. Around 90% of all cases of genital warts are caused by two strains of the virus – type 6 and type 11.

The types of HPV that cause visible genital warts do not cause genital cancer. Other strains of HPV can cause cervical cancer.

How do they spread?

Genital warts can be spread during vaginal or anal sex, and by sharing sex toys. But you don't need to have penetrative sex to pass the infection on because HPV is spread by skin-to-skin contact.

Read more about the causes of genital warts.

It can take months, or even years, for warts to develop after infection with HPV. So if you're in a relationship and you get genital warts, it does not necessarily mean your partner has been having sex with other people.

HPV is most likely to be transmitted to others when warts are present, although it is still possible to pass the virus on before the warts have developed and after they have disappeared.

Condoms do not provide complete protection because it is possible for the skin around your genital area not covered by the condom to become infected.

Read more about preventing genital warts.

Treating genital warts

If you think you have genital warts, see a health professional as they may need to be treated. It is possible to have more than one STI at a time, so if you think you have warts, it is a good idea to have a check-up.

You can make an appointment at your local sexual health or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic.

You can go to a sexual health clinic whatever age you are. If you're under 16, the service is still confidential and the clinic won't tell your parents. Find your local sexual health or GUM clinic.

The treatment for genital warts depends on how many warts you have and where they are. Several treatments are available, such as liquids or creams and freezing the warts (cryotherapy).

You should not use wart creams that are available over the counter because they are designed to only treat warts on the hands or verrucas.

If you are diagnosed with genital warts, it is recommended you do not have sex, including anal and oral sex, until your genital warts have fully healed. This will help prevent you passing the infection on to others. It will also help speed up your recovery.

Learn more in treating genital warts.

Will the warts come back?

Some people only ever get one episode of genital warts. For many others, the warts will come back weeks, months or years later.

If you do develop a new wart, it is not possible to say if these are a result of the original infection or a new infection with HPV.

Who is affected?

Both men and women can be affected by genital warts. According to Public Health England, in 2012 there were 73,893 new cases of genital warts diagnosed by GUM clinics in England. This compares with 206,912 new cases of chlamydia in 2012.

Genital warts are most common in sexually active teenagers and young adults. The highest rates of genital warts occur in men aged 20 to 24 years and women aged 16 to 19 years.

Page last reviewed: 22/08/2014

Next review due: 22/08/2016

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Comments

The 14 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

LoobyJane said on 23 October 2014

I'm currently receiving cryotherapy as I have some warts inside as well as outside. I've had 8 treatments but I'm finding that most of the nurses don't look too closely and don't see the small, less obvious ones, so they're not getting treated.

Does anyone know whether I'll be offered a cream after the inside warts are all gone? I don't want to be cleared if they're not all gone and have them just get larger again instead of disappearing.

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jelm21 said on 03 July 2013

i had my first out break 4 years ago when i found out i was pregnant got those treat while pregnant and now 4 years on and my 3rd baby now18 weeks old my 2nd outbreak can anyone help me understand why ?

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maria kelly said on 29 March 2012

also, what's the best cream for genitals warts? thank you

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maria kelly said on 29 March 2012

Hi, I am worried that I may have genital warts. I went to the GUM clinic in May 2011 and got tested for everything and I was given the all clear, as I did not receive any calls from the Clinic, it was a hospital clinic and they said no news is good news. My BF also gets tested every six months and before we had unprotected sex. We were both clear. I have had thrush once and get itchy just outside my vaginal area from time to time. But its something Vagisil or Canesteen as solved.

So, I went to China and still in China with my Vagisil, but I have had little use for it. I then noticed something and checked online, as I was not sure, looking at Genital warts it seems the closest to what I may be seeing. I am scared of going to the hospital, as I don't speak Chinese fluently and I was given injections for what may look like allergies, but turned out it wasn't. At risk of been given not only the wrong diagnosis and treatment am waiting till I get to London in Jan.

I guess my question is, is waiting risky to get diagnosed as I feel I have no choice?

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Lizzinchina said on 22 October 2011

Hi, I am worried that I may have genital warts. I went to the GUM clinic in May 2011 and got tested for everything and I was given the all clear, as I did not receive any calls from the Clinic, it was a hospital clinic and they said no news is good news. My BF also gets tested every six months and before we had unprotected sex. We were both clear. I have had thrush once and get itchy just outside my vaginal area from time to time. But its something Vagisil or Canesteen as solved.

So, I went to China and still in China with my Vagisil, but I have had little use for it. I then noticed something and checked online, as I was not sure, looking at Genital warts it seems the closest to what I may be seeing. I am scared of going to the hospital, as I don't speak Chinese fluently and I was given injections for what may look like allergies, but turned out it wasn't. At risk of been given not only the wrong diagnosis and treatment am waiting till I get to London in Jan.

I guess my question is, is waiting risky to get diagnosed as I feel I have no choice? Also, my period is absent and has been so for the past 6 months. Am scared and want to get to London as quickly as possible, but that will be in Jan.

Help & Advice please...

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How Could This Happen TO Me said on 23 August 2011

To ABC567
i have a few warts at the very top of my vigina..
i have only just been to the doctors yesterday found out what they were and are awating my appointment.
i also gave birth to my little boy 6 months ago i had gas and air and the pethadine injection other than there my birth was natural and i was in labout 1 hr and 10 mins and went reli well compeared to some.
Now i just have to await my results and pray i do not have cervical cancer or end up infertail as i would like to give my boy a brother or sister and i have had these over a year and not know as i just thought they were skin tags.
Hope this is of help


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ABC567 said on 01 August 2011

I discovered I had this virus in Feb 2011 - since then I have had quite a few treatments to get rid of them including the cryotherapy and also a cream to use at home. They always go after treatment, but then re-appear again, usually in the same places as before, after sex or judt after a few months.

Will I ever get to the point where they will go and not come back?

Can you give birth naturally if you have them at the time of labour?

So many things that worry me and it feels as if they will never go away permanently???

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davey1 said on 30 June 2011

ive had a lot of treatment and the lumps have gone but my skint on my penis is very red and shiny i dont no what to use, i have been using salt water and warm water i need the skint to go back to normal

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1 2 Help said on 21 June 2011

@Meaty1, Ask your GU clinic to apply freezing aswell as the paint. Either does not work by themselves but together you will see results. The freezing will get rid of the top layers, whilst the paint will suffocate the rest, you will need frequent appointments for this to work effectively, but it will work and you will see the results in weeks!

Please let me know how you get on, as I can guarantee that this will work!

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meaty1 said on 08 June 2011

i have had genital warts for about 4 years now ,i am hiv +(in my 17th year) i have seen the gu clinic lots of times i have used aldara and other creams the clinical expert at my hospital keeps telling me they will go away in time how much time do i need ??? they have got worst not better and getting help with this is a none starter where do i go for proper help

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Shaddowz said on 13 February 2011

These numbers seem quite low to me. It is true these are only the actual numbers detected but the illnesses are not fatal and can be easily treated. They are much bigger concerns. If these were so worrying then I am sure the NHS would supply Gardisil which is 99% effective against genital warts to our daughters instead of the jab they currently offer which only offers anti-cancer protection.

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HappyHippo07 said on 17 January 2011

I went to the GUM clinic after I noticed changes in the skin in my genital area, 4 months before I had been to GUM to get tested for any STI's and was all clear.

Therefore at first I didn't think it could be an STI so I left it for over 2 months. Gradually more white bumps appeared so my boyfriend and I went to the clinic and I was told they were mild genital warts and given Worticon, It is a cream used at home for 3 days, twice a day and then 4 days of rest. The cycle is then continued until the warts disappear.

Before going to the clinic I researched all STI's such as chlamydia, herpes... I looked at this page and I thought the symptoms were similar, however when I looked at the images I thought it couldn't be genital warts. Actually the images are probably the extreme cases, mine look nothing like them, or like warts in fact.

I have a long term boyfriend and before we had sex without a condom we both had a full test and came out all clear. I asked the doctor and he said that HPV cannot be tested for, you only know when warts appear.

Getting genital warts doesn't necessarily mean that you have been irresponsible and they can be easily treated.

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AppocalypticQueen said on 30 December 2010

You are right k1987. Furthermore, 79,178 cases of genital warts along with 107,865 cases of Chlamydia in ONE year alone is frightening, especially when we learn that of the 100 different strains of HPV, 40% of them are known to cause genital warts, a very common condition, which a high proportion of men both have, and frequently ignore.

As many are aware, several strains of HPV are linked to cervical and penile cancer, with some studies also linking them to testicular cancer. With this in mind and bearing the fact that these particular strains are passed during sexual intercourse, why on earth is there no focus on young men in the same vein as there is on women, to take responsibility for themselves and for others?

People of both sexes should be made more aware of these links and many more men encouraged to take responsibility. Perhaps if efforts were directed into awareness and screening young men for such conditions as much as they were directed at women, perhaps they would think twice about not engaging in safe sex.

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k1987 said on 27 August 2010

"Between 2004 and 2008, just over 79,000 new cases of genital warts were diagnosed by GUM (genitor-urinary medicine) clinics in England. This compares with almost 108,000 diagnoses of chlamydia for the same time period."

I think this is wrong. According to HPA (Health Protection Agency) there was just over 79,000 new cases diagnosed in GUM clinics in the year 2008 alone (79,178) not over the 4 years, 2004-2008.

And there was107,865 new cases of Chlamydia diagnosed in GUM clinics in just 2008, not from 2004-2008.

Source: http://www.hpa.org.uk/web/HPAweb&HPAwebStandard/HPAweb_C/1203348026613

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