You can get an HPV infection on your genitals (penis, vagina, or anus), and also on the inside of your mouth and throat. Most people who are infected with HPV don’t know it because they don’t have warts. Yet any infected person can pass it on to someone else. There is no cure for genital warts. Either the warts go away on their own or you have to find ways to suppress them.
How do you get genital warts?
You can get genital warts by unprotected oral, vaginal, and anal sex. Also, you can get the virus by sharing sex toys with someone who has no warts but is infected by the human papillomavirus. You can’t get it by sharing baths, towels, cups, or cutlery. Nor can you get it from swimming pools or toilet seats.
How can you protect yourself from getting genital warts?
You can reduce your risk of getting genital warts by:
1. Get vaccinated. Vaccines are available to protect against human papillomavirus, the virus that causes genital warts.
Out of the 40 different types of HPV that cause genital warts, these vaccines offer protection against only the four most common types of HPV. For women, there are two vaccines available – Cervarix and Gardasil. Gardasil offers protection against all four types of HPV. In comparison, Cervarix only offers protection against two types of HPV. For men, only Gardasil is available. For both men and women, you’re able to get these vaccines when you’re between the ages of 9 and 26.
2. Always use condoms. Condoms can lower your risk of getting or spreading genital warts. However, they don’t eliminate your risk altogether. This is because genital warts can appear on areas not covered by condoms.
3. Limit the number of sexual partners. Your risk of getting genital warts increases the more sexual partners you have - both the number of partners you have at the same time, and the total number of sexual partners you have over your lifetime.
What are the signs that you've got genital warts?
If you've got genital warts, they may appear as individual bumps, or in cauliflower-shaped clusters. Genital warts are usually the same colour as your skin. They may be itchy or they may be painless.
In women, warts can be found around your vulva (on the labia), inside your vagina, cervix, and on your anus. If you’ve got genital warts on the inside of your vagina, you may experience discomfort when you have sex or during your period. Otherwise, you may not notice them at all.
In men, warts may grow on or around your penis, scrotum, thighs, and anus.
How can you get tested for genital warts?
Your doctor can tell whether you’ve got genital warts by examining you.
Usually when you’re diagnosed with genital warts it’s not life threatening. Sometimes, your doctor might take extra precautions and also take a tissue sample (biopsy) to make sure you don’t have anything more serious, such as cervical cancer.
How can you get rid of genital warts?
Like warts anywhere on your body, genital warts can disappear on their own, without treatment. In general, this can take up to two years. So if your genital warts aren't causing you any trouble, you may want to wait and see if they go away on their own. If they don’t go away on their own, there are treatments to get rid of them. However, removing the warts doesn't get rid of the virus that causes them, so you can still get warts again.
You can have them removed by:
- Surgery to remove the warts, with local anaesthetic
- Heat treatment to burn off the warts (called Electrocautery)
- Freezing the warts off with liquid nitrogen (Cryotherapy)
- Lasering the warts off