What are genital warts?
Genital warts are small flat or cauliflower-like bumps that can be found in the groin, genitals, buttocks, and inside the vagina or anus. They are caused by infection with specific strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV).
How are genital warts spread?
Genital warts are spread by direct skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity with someone who has HPV. The infected person does not have to have visible warts for it to spread.
After contact with HPV, it may take from 4 weeks to 8 months, or longer for the warts to appear. You can be infected with HPV and not have any visible warts.
What are the symptoms?
Genital warts are soft, painless wart-like bumps. They can cause itching, and may bleed.
For an accurate diagnosis, all suspicious bumps and lesions should be checked by a health care professional.
Some strains of HPV do not produce visible warts. Two of these strains are responsible for most cervical cancer in women. This cancer is detected using a Pap test, which is a routine part of a female sexual health exam.
What is the treatment?
Genital warts can be treated by a health care provider using topical medication or cryotherapy (freezing). Your health care provider may also prescribe a cream that you can apply to the affected area for 4 to 6 weeks. Discuss treatment options with your health care provider to determine which treatment choice may be best for you.
Treatment for genital warts does not get rid of the HPV infection. A person who has been treated for genital warts may still be able to transmit HPV, even though Genital warts are no longer visible.
In most cases, genital warts will go away on their own within 18 months. However, some people want to be treated to remove the visible warts.
Caution: Do not use non-prescription wart removal products to treat genital warts. These products are not intended to be used in the genital area and may cause serious burning.
How can genital warts be prevented?
The HPV vaccine Gardasil™ is highly effective in protecting against 2 strains of HPV that cause most genital warts and 2 strains that cause most cervical cancer. Gardasil™ is offered at no cost to girls in Grade 6 as part of the publicly-funded immunization program. Females born in 1994 or later who missed getting the HPV vaccine may contact their healthcare provider to get immunized at no cost. People who are not covered by the school-based program can speak with their health care provider about how to purchase the vaccine privately. For more information, see HealthLinkBC File #101b Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine.
Using a male or female condom will provide some protection, but only to the skin covered by the condom. Condoms do not cover all genital skin so they do not protect the area 100 per cent. In order to prevent infection, it is important to see a health care provider before having sex if you or any of your sexual partners have sores or unusual growths on or around your genitals.
How can I reduce my chance of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI)?
Practice safe sex by using a condom
When used as directed, male and female condoms help prevent the spread of many STIs, including HIV, during vaginal, anal and oral sex. Condoms are less effective at protecting against STIs transmitted by skin-to-skin contact, such as herpes simplex, genital warts (human papillomavirus or HPV), and syphilis.
Important things to remember when using condoms:
- Check the condom package for damage and to ensure the expiry date has not passed.
- Carefully open the package so that the condom does not tear.
- Keep condoms away from sharp objects such as rings, studs, or piercings.
- Store condoms at room temperature.
- A new condom should be used every time you have sex.
- Use only water-based lubricants with male latex condoms. Oil-based lubricants, such as petroleum jelly, lotion, or baby oil can weaken and destroy latex.
- Avoid using spermicides containing nonoxynol-9 (N-9). It irritates sexual tissue and may increase the chance of getting an STI.
Some STIs, such as hepatitis A, B and human papillomavirus (HPV) can be prevented with vaccines. Talk to your health care provider about how to get these vaccinations.
Know your sexual health status
If you have recently changed sexual partners, or have multiple sex partners, getting regularly tested for STIs will tell you if you have an infection. Finding and treating an STI, (including HIV) reduces the chances of passing the infection on to your partner.
The more partners you have, the more likely you are to be exposed to a sexually transmitted infection.
Talk about prevention
Talk to your partner about STIs and how you would like to prevent them before having sex. If you are having trouble discussing safer sex with your partner, talk about it with your health care provider or a counselor.
For tips on how to talk to your partner, visit the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) Smart Sex Resource at http://smartsexresource.com/sex-talk/talk-about-it.
If you have a sexually transmitted infection and are sexually active, it is important to tell your sexual partners. This will enable them to make decisions about their health and getting tested.
For More Information
For more information on how you can reduce your chance of getting an STI, see HealthLinkBC File #08o Preventing Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).