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

In September 2012 Gardasil replaced Cervarix as the vaccine given to all girls entering school year eight (12 to 13 years).

Gardasil is seen as the most effective vaccine as it protects against HPV types 6 and 11 which cause around 90% of genital wart cases and HPV types 16 and 18 which cause more than 70% of cervical cancers in the U.K.

Girls and young women are eligible for Gardasil under the national immunisation programme until they are 18 years old. Boys and women over 18 are not covered by the programme.

Gardasil has been in use for six years and more than 80 million doses have been distributed worldwide.

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. However, they can appear unsightly and cause psychological distress.

Learn more in symptoms of genital warts.

The human papillomavirus (HPV)

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is not a single virus, but a family of over 100 different strains of viruses. 

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. 

Other strains of HPV can cause cervical cancer. See cervical cancer for more information about this condition.

How do they spread?

Genital warts can be spread during vaginal or anal sex, and by sharing sex toys. However, you do not need to have penetrative sex to pass the infection on because HPV is spread by skin-to-skin contact. Learn more in causes of genital warts.

It can take up to one year for warts to develop after infection with HPV. Therefore, if you are 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.

Learn more in prevention of genital warts.

Treating genital warts

If you think you have genital warts, see a health professional as they need to be treated.

Wart creams available over-the-counter (OTC) will not work because they are designed to only treat warts on the hands.

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.

Several treatments are available, such as creams and cryotherapy (freezing the warts), and they have a good rate of success. However, many treatments can take up to three months before they are fully effective. 

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 your recovery.

Learn more in treating genital warts.

Who is affected?

According to the Health Protection Agency, in 2010 there were 75,615 new cases of genital warts diagnosed by GUM (genitor-urinary medicine) clinics in England. This compares with 189,612 new cases of chlamydia in 2010.

Genital warts are most common in sexually active teenagers and young adults. The highest rates of genital warts occur in males between 20 to 24 years of age and females between 16 and 19 years of age. 

Page last reviewed: 30/05/2012

Next review due: 30/05/2014

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Comments

The 13 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

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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