People often use genital warts and human papilloma virus (HPV) interchangeably. But genital warts are growths on the skin of the genital area caused by certain types of HPV.
Anywhere between 500,000 and 1 million people get HPV annually. There are over 100 types of HPV. Certain types, or strains, will produce warts on different parts of the body. For example, plantar warts on the feet and warts on the hands are are strains of HPV. Some strains can produce genital warts, and other strains, called high-risk types of HPV, can lead to cancer.
Ninety percent of genital warts are caused by two strains of HPV: types 6 and 11. These warts can appear on the lips, mouth, throat (maybe think twice before giving that blow job?), vulva, vagina, cervix, rectum, anus, penis, urethra, or testicles. Symptoms usually appear to weeks to 6 months after infection. Typical symptoms are soft-to-the-touch flesh colored bumps on the skin that resemble a cauliflower. These bumps often grow in more than one place, and in clusters. Usually the warts are painless, but for some people they itch. To view photos of HPV on The STD Project’s site, click here.
Women that are pregnant and people with weakened immune systems will often experience worse symptoms. The vast majority of pregnant women with genital warts have normal deliveries and it is rare she will pass it to her baby, however, a C-section or removal of warts may be needed in some cases because spreading it could result in developmental disabilities or breathing difficulties for the baby.
Women can get diagnosed for genital warts via a pelvic exam or pap smear, but men are generally not tested for it. So even if your male partner has gotten tested for STDs he may not know if he has HPV unless he’s seen the warts and had a diagnoses confirmed by a medical professional.
A note for young women from Dr. Miriam Grossman from the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute:
A woman’s cervix has a vulnerable area one cell thick called the transformation zone. It’s easy for HPV… to settle in there. That’s why most teen girls are infected from one of their first sexual partners. By adulthood the transformation zone is replaced with a thicker tougher surface. So it’s wise to delay sexual activity, or, if you’ve already started, to stop.
There are a couple vaccines available for men and women. The Cervarix vaccine protects against HPV strains 16 and 18, which causes 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. The Gardasil vaccine protects against HPV strains 16 and 18 and HPV strains 6 and 11. Most health care providers – including Planned Parenthood – offer a three-part vaccination series for free or little cost for women between the ages of 17 and 29.
HPV is not curable – the virus will stay in the body – but there are treatments to manage the symptoms. Genital warts can be removed with a freezing treatment (called cryotherapy), surgery, or lasers. There are other medicines that can be applied directly to the warts to get rid of them. In some instances the body will fight off the virus and the genital warts will go away on its own. Condoms can be effective protection against genital warts but because genital warts are spread through skin-to-skin contact, they are not a guarantee.
To find a location to get tested for genital warts visit our resources page, or Google test centers in your area. If you have genital warts and you want to find a support group, check out this list to see if there are any locations near you.
***This is a blog and the information on this website is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, nor is it meant to take the place of your personal physician’s advice.***