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    What are genital warts?

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      What are genital warts? Genital warts are small, fleshy growths or bumps found in the genital or anal area. They are a viral skin infection caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV isn’t a single virus but a group of more than 100 viruses. Most strains of HPV are symptomless; however some HPV can manifest physically. Approximately 90% of genital warts are caused by two strains of HPV: type 6 and type 11. For more information see our HPV article.

      Are genital warts dangerous?

      No. Genital warts are primarily harmless. Unlike, say, chlamydia, no evidence links genital warts to loss of fertility. Although occasionally sore and itchy, most cases of genital warts are completely painless. However genital warts do look unpleasant. Their presence can cause a loss of confidence, anxiety and distress.

      What are the symptoms of genital warts?

      Genital warts often occur in clusters or large groups. They can occur in a range of sizes, and occasionally they can become itchy or inflamed.

      Genital warts in women

      Most cases of genital warts appear around the vulva, the opening of the vagina. Often the warts will be too small to notice, and entirely symptomless. Genital warts can appear as:

      • warts around the vulva
      • warts on the cervix
      • warts within the vagina
      • warts around or within the anus
      • warts in the groin

      Genital warts in men

      Genital warts in men are less common than in women. Most cases occur around the anus or on the tip of the penis. They can appear as:

      • warts on the penis, especially the tip
      • warts on and around the scrotum / testicles
      • warts within the urethra (where urine comes out)
      • warts around or within the anus
      • warts in the groin

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      What genital warts treatments are available?

      Treatment for genital warts depends on the severity of the symptoms. Our online doctor service offers two medical treatments for genital warts: Warticon and Aldara. These should treat most cases of genital warts. For a more detailed overview visit our genital wart treatment page.

      • Warticon (podophyllotoxin): solution or cream used to treat small, fleshy warts. Warticon physically burns off the wart. The warts take around one month to disappear (sometimes longer) but can often return.
      • Aldara (imiquimod): a cream that works best on larger warts. Aldara assists your body's immune system in fighting the warts and the HPV. It may take several weeks, even months for the warts to disappear. However warts treated with Aldara are less likely to recur.

      For more severe cases of genital warts, you may need to physically remove each wart. This is known as physical ablation. The four main methods of removing warts through physical ablation are:

      • Cryotherapy: freezing the warts with liquid nitrogen or dry ice.
      • Excision: cutting off the wart under local anesthetic.
      • Electrosurgery: a specialist treatment that burns away the wart using an electric current.
      • Laser surgery: difficult to access warts (e.g. within the anus) can be burned away with a laser.

      For all treatments you should avoid sexual intercourse until you are fully healed. You should use a condom during sex for the next three months (and whenever you have sex with a new partner). Unfortunately no treatment can remove HPV itself, the underlying cause of genital warts. It is also possible to pick up another strain of HPV. Therefore there is always a change the warts may recur.

      HPV vaccination

      Using a condom during sex is the most effective protection against genital warts. However even condoms aren’t guaranteed as you can still pass HPV through the bare skin not covered by the condom. Vaccinating against HPV is recommended. We offer the Gardasil vaccination, which can reduce your risk of genital warts, as well as cervical cancer, by immunising you against four common strains of HPV: 6, 11, 16 and 18. Visit our Gardasil information page to start your online consultation.

      Frequently asked questions about genital warts

      Are genital warts itchy?
      Genital warts can sometimes become itchy or cause itchiness to the genitals and cause some inflammation. 

      Are genital warts dangerous?

      Genital warts are not usually painful or a serious threat to your health. However, if you don’t get treatment for genital warts they can become uncomfortable and not very nice to look at. 

      If you’re pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant it’s worth checking with your doctor as treatment for genital warts might change. If warts get big, they might be removed before birth to avoid any issues. If you have a vaginal delivery, the virus that causes warts can be passed to the baby but this is rare.

      What causes genital warts?
      Genital warts are caused by certain strains of the HPV virus. Not everyone who gets the virus will get genital warts, but for some people the infection will turn into genital warts. The virus is usually passed from one person to another during vaginal or anal sex. It’s more likely to be passed on when warts are present, but it can also be passed on once the warts have disappeared. 

      Do genital warts show up right away?
      If you’ve been in contact with the virus it can take between 3 weeks and 18 months for visible bumps to develop. 

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