HPV warts: everything you need to know
Reviewed by our clinical team
You may have heard of HPV (human papillomavirus) and genital warts, but did you know the two are connected? In fact HPV is the cause behind lots of different types of warts, as well as genital warts.
In this guide we’ll explore the different types of warts caused by HPV and how to identify them as well as how to prevent them and the different treatment options available to you.
What are HPV warts?
HPV is largely symptomless virus but certain strains can cause genital warts, as well as hand warts and verrucas.
Genital warts are a sexually transmitted infection (STI) causing fleshy growths, or warts, around the genitals, anus and on occasion the mouth and hands.
How did I get a HPV wart?
HPV is passed through skin-to-skin contact with someone who has the infection. There are lots of different strains of HPV that cause warts on the hands and feet and verrucas. But strains 6 and 11 are the main causes of genital warts. Genital warts tend to be spread through sexual contact, this can include vaginal sex, anal sex and sharing sex toys and rarely, oral sex.
Types of HPV warts
All forms of warts are caused by a virus however there are many different types of warts that appear in various places on the body. Here are the most common types of warts:
Genital warts are a common form of HPV wart, appearing anywhere around your vagina, penis or anus. They can vary in size and may appear as one wart or a cluster.
Common warts can appear anywhere on the body but typically appear on the knuckles, knees and fingers. They are round or oval-shaped and have a rough, irregular surface. Common warts tend to be firm, raised and vary from 1mm to 1cm in diameter.
Plantar warts are also known as verrucas and can sometimes be painful when walking. They appear on the soles of your feet and sometimes you can see tiny black dots under a flat layer of hard skin.
Plane warts (flat warts)
These are raised but flat-topped warts, they can appear individually or in a group.
Warts that grow in clusters are normally mosaic warts. This type of wart appears in a ‘tile-like’ pattern and often appears on the hands and bottom of the feet.
How to identify HPV warts
HPV warts are not usually painful but can sometimes cause discomfort or itchiness. They can also vary in size with larger warts that may also bleed. Whilst some HPV warts appear on the genitals, they can also be found in different places so it’s important to know how to identify warts from other skin conditions.
Genital warts are usually small in size, appearing in clusters that may resemble mini cauliflowers. Depending on where exactly the warts are, they can cause a change in the flow of your pee, or they might itch or bleed because they get irritated by urine or wiping your bottom.
HPV warts on fingers and hands
Warts on your fingers or hands can vary in appearance but are typically firm and rough, usually the same colour as your skin or darker on dark skin. Warts in these places are called common warts.
HPV warts on mouth or face
Some types of HPV can affect the mouth or face, causing warts on the skin or inside the mouth. This is more rare than other forms of HPV warts and is a result of oral HPV.
Are HPV warts contagious?
Genital warts are passed on through skin-to-skin contact with someone who has HPV. For genital warts, this commonly involves vaginal and anal sex but can also occur during oral sex or when using sex toys. Barrier methods of contraception including condoms can help to reduce the risk of catching HPV warts but don’t cover the entirety of genital skin so are not 100% effective.
If you have contracted HPV, the virus can stay dormant and it can take months or even years before you see any warts appear. Sometimes the warts appear within weeks after sexual contact and sometimes your body clears the virus completely, so you never actually get any warts.
How to prevent HPV warts
To avoid catching genital warts it’s best to practise safe sex by using a condom or dental dams. This can help to prevent getting HPV warts however neither method offers complete protection.
It’s hard to avoid catching warts on the hands and feet. They’re spread through skin-to-skin contact, but they can also be spread indirectly through surfaces, e.g., the wet areas around a swimming pool.
The most effective way to reduce your risk of getting the strains of HPV that can cause genital warts, is with the HPV vaccine.
The HPV vaccine is a recommended vaccination given to girls and boys between the age of 12 to 13 years of age. It can protect against types of HPV that cause genital warts as well as the HPV types that are linked to certain cancers.
Anyone over 18 can get the HPV vaccine if they haven’t already done so, even if they have HPV or have had it in the past. Find out more about side effects of the HPV vaccine and how to book an appointment with to get your HPV vaccine.
Can you treat HPV warts?
Warts can be easily treated with creams, surgery or freezing. Each method can take weeks or months to work, but in some cases may not work at all.
Warts may also come back. This is especially common if you’ve had genital warts and you get pregnant. During pregnancy the immune system works in a different way - it concentrates on "more important" issues than warts, which is why they sometimes come back.
Treatment for HPV warts
If you think you have HPV warts on your hands or feet, you could speak to your pharmacist about treatment or book an appointment to speak to your GP.
If you think you have genital warts should visit a sexual health clinic that will be able to diagnose and offer effective treatment.
Medication for HPV warts
You may be prescribed a cream or liquid solution to treat the warts that you can apply at home a few times a week. This usually takes several weeks and may cause pain or irritation.
HPV warts removal
Like any other warts, genital HPV warts can also be removed by freezing the wart with liquid nitrogen. This usually needs to be done several times. If the warts are large or don’t respond to other treatments, your doctor may recommend surgery. This can be painful and cause scarring.
In summary, HPV warts are very common, but only certain types of HPV virus cause genital warts and only "high-risk strains" (types) are linked to certain cancers.
The best way to protect yourself against high-risk strains of HPV and prevent genital warts is with the HPV vaccine. Find out more about common HPV misconceptions to help you understand more about the virus and how you can treat it.