Genital warts are caused by certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV).
Genital warts are so prevalent in the U.S. that one study shows that 80% of the country’s population will become infected with the HPV strains that cause genital warts at some point in their lives. Although 80% of the U.S. population may become infected with HPV at times in their lives, only 5% of those infected will actually develop genital warts.
Genital warts can be white, gray or even flesh-colored growths occurring around and in the genital areas. Genital warts occurring in or around the vagina are referred to as vaginal warts. Some of the warts can form masses that resemble the head of a cauliflower.
Genital Warts in Men
At least half of sexually active men will carry HPV during their lifetime. For men, small bumps or warts can grow on the penis or near the anus.
Some types of HPV can lead to penile or anal cancer in men, but it’s very rare, especially for men with a healthy immune system.
Genital warts on men will appear on the scrotum, penis, and anus.
Genital Warts in Women
It is recommended that women get a regular Pap test to detect cancer or HPV or any other changes in the cervix. In pregnant women with genital warts, the danger lies during labor, when the virus can be passed on to the newborn. In rare cases, the newborn will have an outbreak of warts in their nose and throat. Some women who have genital warts on their cervix will experience bleeding after sexual intercourse.
In some cases for women, no visible symptoms of HPV appear at all and detection of the condition only takes place after a regularly scheduled Pap test for cancer. In other cases, the virus causes warts or small bumps to appear on the genitals. For women, warts may grow on the vulva or in the vagina and even hidden on the cervix.
Genital Warts or Condyloma is a medical condition caused by a particular strain of a virus known as HPV which stands for Human Papillomavirus. It is a sexually transmitted infection and is highly contagious. At present, there is no cure for HPV. HPV can stay in the body for a period of weeks up to several years and causes reoccurring outbreaks of genital warts depending on the strain.
Some recent studies are giving the medical society certain optimism as to the possibility of eliminating the virus from the body depending on the strength of the patient’s immune response. Factors such as stress, the presence of HIV, certain medications or other illness may affect this projection.
Unlike HIV, the infection cannot be found or spread through bodily fluids. It can only be passed on by direct physical contact with the infected areas through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Once infected, a person can develop genital warts weeks and even years after exposure.
Wearing a condom may help prevent the spread of the infection, but this is not an absolute source of protection, because the condom may not cover completely areas that are infected.
Genital Warts Symptoms
- Small, flesh-colored or gray swellings in your genital area
- Several warts close together that take on a cauliflower-like shape
- Bleeding with intercourse
- Itching or discomfort in your genital area
You have a 60% chance of catching the virus even if the sexual contact happened only once with an infected person. The infection may possibly lay dormant in the body for up to three months before symptoms appear or possibly even years.
Some genital warts are so tiny that they are difficult to see. Others are larger and may be itchy, tender or present a burning sensation. The genital wart may be flat in appearance or it may be a small bump that looks like a cauliflower. There may be a single wart or they may appear in groups or large clusters.
Out of the over 100 different types of HPV, only a few strains cause genital warts. Some believe that genital warts can cause cancer if left untreated. In reality, though, the two most common strains of HPV that generally are linked to cancer are not the ones that usually cause genital warts.
Genital Warts Treatment
Treatments for genital warts include the use of topical creams like Podophyllin and Podofilox. However, these medications can be absorbed through the skin and cause certain birth defects if the patient is pregnant. If these treatments are not effective in removing genital warts, then doctors will sometimes recommend Wart Cryotherapy. This procedure actually freezes the wart using liquid nitrogen.
The genital wart can also be removed by a process known as Electrodesiccation. This method uses an electric current to destroy genital warts. But remember, the HPV stays in your body and so genital warts can return after removal.
Another genital warts treatment is Laser Surgery. This is usually performed by a skilled surgeon when other treatments have failed and the size and number of the warts is greater than normal. It can be very expensive and it does carry with it some side effects like pain, swelling, scarring, sores and the shedding of dead tissue in the area that was treated. And since the treatment has a negative effect on the immune system, the likelihood of warts returning is greater.
Traditional over the counter treatments for other types of warts should not be used to treat genital warts as they can cause irritation. Another option is the use of an antiviral drug Interferon-alpha. This drug is injected directly into the wart to remove it. It is, generally speaking, only an option for warts that were removed by other means and returned. And it does not prevent the wart from returning again. If the genital wart is very large, surgical removal might be an option.
A more proactive method of treating genital warts is the use of Imiquimod (Aldara). This cream works to boost your immune system, allowing your body to fight the infection on its own. A couple of downsides to this treatment is that it can be irritating to your partner’s skin and it may weaken the effectiveness of a condom or diaphragm.
Some have reported good results from the use of herbs, acupuncture, and aromatherapy. But when it comes to holistic medicine or natural methods of treatment, diligence, persistence, and patience are needed before a measure of healing can be recognized. This is the reason many have sought a more aggressive medical alternative for relief of their symptoms.
The good news about genital warts is that a person’s immune system can usually fight off the virus in 1 to 2 years. During this time, an infected person may develop genital warts several times. Warts can sometimes disappear on their own or they can be removed with the methods described above.
There is a vaccine available for the prevention of HPV, the virus that causes genital warts. It is called Gardasil and it is only administered to females aged 9 to 26. The vaccine is most effective if administered to women before they begin any sexual activity or are exposed to the virus.
According to studies, the vaccine prevents about 70 percent of cervical cancers caused by HPV and about 90 percent of genital warts. It apparently lasts for about five years and does not appear to have any severe side effects.
The most effective means of prevention is to limit your sexual activity with one partner who is infection free. However, even though you may not be able to see any genital warts, that doesn’t mean the person is not infected with HPV. Genital warts can be hidden on the cervix in women or may be very tiny in men. Also, the virus can remain dormant for up to three years without symptoms. Medical professionals recommend testing for the HPV virus to help maintain good health.