Genital warts are caused by HPV (Human Papilloma Virus). Although warts may get better by themselves, most people opt for treatment. Warts may sometimes reappear after they seem to have gone on their own or after treatment.
- What is it?
Genital warts are caused by a common skin virus called HPV (short for Human Papilloma Virus). Many people will carry the virus and never develop warts. If you do develop visible warts we can offer treatment to make them go away but it is up to your body's immune system to clear the virus up, which can take months to years in some people.
Warts can appear for the first time during pregnancy because of the immune system changes that happen when someone is pregnant. Genital warts can be treated with cryotherapy (freezing) during pregnancy. However, having genital warts rarely affects the baby during birth. If you are pregnant, you can be reassured that there is little risk to the baby, but you should tell your doctor or nurse if you have genital warts.
If they are not treated effectively, some HPV types can cause cancer. Cancer of the cervix (neck of the womb), vulva, vagina, anus, penis and throat have been linked to HPV types 16 and 18. However, these are not the common, visible types of HPV. It is important for all women who are aged 25 to 64 years to make sure that their cervical screening is up to date by checking with their GP.
- How do I catch it?
HPV is passed from one person to another through skin-to-skin genital contact. This does not need to be penetrative sex (vaginal, anal or oral), but could just be close genital contact.
You can’t catch HPV from hugging, kissing, swimming pools, toilets, sharing towels or sharing cups, plates or cutlery.
- What symptoms could I have?
Most people who get HPV don’t show any signs or symptoms (including genital warts), and the virus could go away by itself. This means that you might not know if you or your partner has the virus.
If you do get genital warts, you might notice fleshy bumps, growths or skin changes appearing anywhere in the genital or anal area.
The warts can appear three weeks to a few months, or even years after catching HPV.
- How do you test for it?
There is no routine test available for the HPV virus. The diagnosis of genital warts is made in the sexual health clinic by a doctor or nurse looking at your skin.
You can use the service finder to find a sexual health service near you.
- How do you treat it?
Most people do opt for treatment even though the warts may get better by themselves.
Using a cream or a lotion on the warts a few times a week at home is the most common treatment option. These treatments can take from weeks to months to work. Other options include heat (electrocautery), freezing (cryotherapy), laser or surgery.
Once the warts have gone, there is a chance that they will come back.
A vaccine is available that protects you from getting the main types of HPV. This is now given to all girls aged 12-13 years, and there is a catch up programme for all girls up to the age of 18. However, the HPV vaccination is not a service that we provide in our clinics.
If you are diagnosed with genital warts, it is really important that you advise your partner to come to the clinic for a sexual health check-up.