Genital Warts

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What are genital warts? – These are rashes or small bumps that form or grow in or around the genitals and anus. They are a type of sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by human papillomavirus (HPV).  

What parts of the body are affected by genital warts?

Genital warts affect both male and female genital / anal region and other specific areas of the body such as:

  1. Penis and scrotum
  2. Vulva (external female genital organs)
  3. Vagina
  4. Cervix
  5. Anus
  6. Rectum 
  7. Groin
  8. Lips, mouth, tongue and throat 

What are the risk factors for genital warts?

Sexual exposure (either male or female at any age) is the main risk factor for genital warts. However, genital warts may also be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, especially if there is an open wound on the skin. Certain factors increase the risk of an individual having genital warts. These include:

  1. Teenage and young adult stage of life (male and female)
  2. Multiple sexual partners
  3. Unprotected sexual intercourse (i.e. sex without condom)

What causes genital warts?

Genital warts are caused by human papillomavirus infection (HPV 6 and HPV 11), which is mainly sexually transmitted.  

Are genital warts contagious?

Genital warts are contagious because the virus that causes them is transmissible from person to person through:

  1. Genital, anal or oral sex with someone having genital herpes
  2. Genital touching (skin-to-skin contact) without penetrative sex
  3. Mother-to-child transmission during childbirth

Does every HPV infection lead to genital warts?

No. Some people may be infected with HPV without developing genital warts but may pass the virus on to their sexual partners who may then go on to develop genital warts.

How easily can someone with genital warts know the source of the infection?

It is not easy to know the source of infection with HPV that causes genital warts since some persons harbour the virus without developing the lesion. However, developing genital warts after having sexual contact with someone who has obvious lesions may suggest the source of the infection.

How long does it take genital warts to manifest after infection with HPV?

It may take up to 6 weeks to 6 months for genital warts to develop after HPV infection.  Therefore, infected person, who later manifests the disease, may have spread the infection to other sexual contacts before developing obvious lesions. 

How do genital warts present?

Genital warts may present as:

  1. Rough area (like rashes) on the skin around the perineum and anus which may be whitish-grey in colour 
  2. Bumpy and cauliflower growth on the perineum
  3. Often painless rashes
  4. Rashes with occasional burning sensation
  5. Genital itching and irritation
  6. Slight bleeding on the surface of the bumps

How are genital warts treated?

Genital warts may, sometimes, not need treatment. This is because the body’s immune system may be able to fight the causative agent (HPV) and restrict their activities. With time, the lesions regress. For those that persist, they may become larger and spread to other areas around the perineum to cause mild to moderate discomfort.

Such individuals will require some form of treatment. The treatment for warts is usually aimed at burning them off so as to interrupt their blood supply and stop their growth. The methods applied may be in form of:

  1. Topical drug: Application of chemical on the surface of the lesion directly, in form of solution or cream.
  2. Cryotherapy: Freezing the warts using special instruments.
  3. Electrocautery: Application of electric current to the warts to burn them
  4. Laser treatment: This destroys the blood supply to the warts, thus making them dry off
  5. Surgery: Cutting off. This is done for large warts that have failed other treatment methods

Does treating genital warts cure the infection?

No. the treatment for genital warts only takes care of the visible lesion while the HPV that causes the warts remains in the affected persons. The person may therefore re-infect another sexual partner if they engage in unprotected sexual intercourse

How are genital warts prevented?

Genital warts can only be completely prevented by avoiding sexual or genital contacts. However, the risks can be reduced by doing the following:

  1. Avoid multiple sexual partners
  2. Avoid unprotected sexual intercourse with another partner other than your regular sexual partner
  3. Regular use of barrier protection for sexual intercourse (condom) – Though not completely protective, condom use may reduce the risk of contracting HPV infection
  4. Get vaccinated with HPV vaccine
  5. Avoid douching
  6. Caesarean delivery in a woman with genital warts
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