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Home » Sexual Health, Women's Health

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) & Genital Warts Treatment

Article / Review by on November 6, 2010 – 7:49 pmNo Comments

Human Papillomavirus

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common causes of sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the world. Health experts estimate there are more cases of genital HPV infection than any other STI in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 6 million new cases of sexually transmitted HPV infections are reported every year. At least 20 million people in this country are already infected.

Genital warts

Genital warts (sometimes called condylomata acuminata or venereal warts) are the most easily recognized sign of genital HPV infection. Many people, however, have a genital HPV infection without genital warts.

Genital warts are soft, moist, or flesh colored and appear in the genital area within weeks or months after infection. They sometimes appear in clusters that resemble cauliflower-like bumps, and are either raised or flat, small or large. Genital warts can show up in women on the vulva and cervix, and inside and surrounding the vagina and anus. In men, genital warts can appear on the scrotum or penis. There are cases where genital warts have been found on the thigh and groin.

Cause

More than 100 different types of HPV exist, most of which are harmless. About 30 types are spread through sexual contact and are classified as either low risk or high risk.

Some types of HPV cause genital warts–single or multiple bumps that appear in the genital areas of men and women including the vagina, cervix, vulva (area outside of the vagina), penis, and rectum. These are considered low-risk types.

High-risk types of HPV may cause abnormal Pap smear results. They could lead to cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus, or penis.

Transmission

Genital warts are very contagious. You can get them during oral, vaginal, or anal sex with an infected partner. You can also get them by skin-to-skin contact during vaginal, anal, or (rarely) oral sex with someone who is infected. About two-thirds of people who have sexual contact with a partner with genital warts will develop warts, usually within 3 months of contact.

If you are infected but have no symptoms, you can still spread HPV to your sexual partner and/or develop complications from the virus.

Take care not to damage, scratch or pick at these warts.

Inform your partner, use a condom, and practice safe sex.

Wash your hands thoroughly with hot water and soap.

Avoid touching Warts; you could spread them with your hands.

Symptoms

In women, genital warts occur on the outside and inside of the vagina, on the opening to the uterus (cervix), or around the anus.

In men, genital warts are less common. If present, they usually are seen on the tip of the penis. They also may be found on the shaft of the penis, on the scrotum, or around the anus.

Rarely, genital warts also can develop in your mouth or throat if you have oral sex with an infected person.

Like many STIs, genital HPV infections often do not have signs and symptoms that you can see or feel. One study sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) reported that almost half of women infected with HPV had no obvious symptoms.

If you are infected but have no symptoms, you can still spread HPV to your sexual partner and/or develop complications from the virus.

Diagnosis

Your health care provider usually diagnoses genital warts by seeing them.

If you are a woman with genital warts, you also should be examined for possible HPV infection of the cervix. Your health care provider can diagnose HPV infection based on results from an abnormal Pap smear, a primary cancer-screening tool for cervical cancer or pre-cancerous changes of the cervix. In some cases, a health care provider will take a small piece of tissue from the cervix and examine it under the microscope.

Another test to diagnose HPV infection detects HPV DNA, which may indicate possible infection.

Your provider may be able to identify some otherwise invisible warts in your genital tissue by applying vinegar (acetic acid) to areas of your body that might be infected. This solution causes infected areas to whiten, which makes them more visible.

Treatment

There are treatments for genital warts, though the warts often disappear even without treatment. Therefore, if you suspect you have genital warts, you should be examined and treated, if necessary.

If you have small warts, your health care provider can remove them by one of three methods.

  • Freezing (cryosurgery)
  • Burning (electrocautery)
  • Laser treatment

If you have large warts that have not responded to other treatment, you may have to have surgery to remove them.

All treatments listed above are painful and can sometimes leave scarring.

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