What Is It?
Genital warts are caused by a virus called the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). Genital warts can occur inside the vagina, on the vagina lips, on the shaft or head of the penis, around the scrotum (balls) or inside and around the anus. Very occasionally, they develop in the mouth or on the face.
Many HPV infections are invisible and have no symptoms.
Genital warts are painless; they resemble a fleshy cauliflower-like growth, and may form clusters. (Small groups of warts in the same place together).
They begin small but can grow quite large if unnoticed and/or untreated (this is more likely to happen if they grow inside the vagina or anus).
HPV is transmitted two ways:
- Direct skin to skin contact where a wart is present.
- During times of viral shedding around the genitalia.
It is more likely that transmission will take place if the warts come into contact with mucus membranes such as the inside of the vagina, the head of the penis, the inside of the anus or occasionally the mouth.
Due to the fact that warts grow on the skin, and the virus tends to shed around the genitalia, condoms and other barriers may not offer complete protection from HPV infection. However, it is safer to use condoms and/or glyde dams for licking or sucking the penis, vagina, or anus.
The infection can be easily transmitted whilst the warts are visible, so something you can do to reduce the risk of contracting genital warts is to look at the genitals of your sexual partner to ensure no warts are present.
If you notice warts or cauliflower-like growths on yourself or your sexual partner, then a visit to the STI Clinic is recommended.
The virus can be present in your system for up to 8 months without warts or cauliflower-like growths developing. Once warts appear it is advisable to get them treated. The virus that causes HPV can clear from your blood and this can take a few months. In some cases it does not clear. Sometimes people experience another outbreak of warts at a later point. Genital Warts can be contracted more than once.
Your sexual partner(s) may also need treatment as they may be infected even if they do not have symptoms.
There are many different strains of HPV and the ones that cause cervical and anal cancer are not the same ones that cause genital warts.
The HPV vaccination is available privately in Ireland. Make sure to ask your medical practitioner for the vaccination that covers genital warts as well as cervical cancer. Further details are available from your local STI clinic.
Remember – regular screening at your local STI clinic is recommended to maintain your sexual health.
It is essential that you see a doctor, preferably in a STI clinic, for treatment as soon as you can. Genital warts do not go away if left untreated, they continue to grow and spread.
Genital warts are treated using different methods depending on the size, position and quantity of the wart(s). The majority of warts are successfully treated by freezing or applying anti-viral creams. Persistent warts may need to be treated over a period of time. As a last resort, surgery or laser treatment may be recommended. There is also a type of cream that can be applied which helps the body to clear the virus that causes the warts.