The most easily recognized sign of genital HPV infection is genital warts (sometimes called condylomata acuminata or venereal warts). 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 of infection. They sometimes appear in clusters that resemble cauliflower-like bumps, and are can be 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. Genital warts have also been found on the thigh and groin. Rarely, genital warts also can develop in your mouth or throat if you have oral sex with an infected person.
Transmission Of Genital Warts
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.
Diagnosis Of Genital Warts
Your health care provider can usually diagnose genital warts by sight. If you are a woman with genital warts, you also should be examined for possible HPV infection.
Your doctor may be able to identify some otherwise invisible warts in your genital tissue by applying acetic acid (vinegar) to areas of your body that might be infected. This solution causes infected areas to turn white, which makes them more visible. In some cases, your doctor will take a small piece of tissue from the cervix and examine it under a microscope.
Genital Warts Treatment
Genital warts often disappear on their own, but there is no way to predict whether they will disappear or continue to grow. If you suspect you have genital warts, you should be examined and treated if necessary.
Depending on factors such as the size and location of your genital warts, your health care provider will offer you one of several ways to treat them:
- Imiquimod cream
- 20 percent podophyllin antimitotic solution
- 0.5 percent podofilox solution
- 5 percent 5-fluorouracil cream
- Trichloroacetic acid (TCA).
If you are pregnant, you should not use podophyllin or podofilox because they are absorbed by your skin and may cause birth defects. You should also not use 5-fluorouracil cream if you are pregnant.
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, they may require surgery.
Some health care providers inject the antiviral drug alpha interferon directly into warts that have returned after removal by traditional means. The drug is expensive, however, and does not reduce the rate that the genital warts return.
Although treatments can get rid of the warts, none gets rid of the virus. Because the virus is still present in your body, warts often come back after treatment.
The only way you can prevent getting an HPV infection is to avoid direct contact with the virus, which is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact. If you or your sexual partner has warts that are visible in the genital area, you should avoid any skin-to skin and sexual contact until the warts are treated.
Gardasil is the only vaccine that may help guard against diseases caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) types 6, 11, 16, and 18:
- Cervical cancer
- Cervical abnormalities that can sometimes lead to cervical cancer
- Genital warts.
HPV Types 16 and 18 cause 70% of cervical cancer cases, and HPV Types 6 and 11 cause 90% of genital warts cases.
Historically, research studies have not confirmed that male latex condoms prevent transmission of HPV. Recent studies, however, demonstrate that consistent condom use by male partners may offer strong protection against low- and high-risk types of HPV infection in women. Unfortunately, many people who don’t have symptoms don’t know that they can spread the virus to an uninfected partner.
Risks Of Genital Warts During Pregnancy And Childbirth
Genital warts can multiply and become brittle, which may cause a number of problems during pregnancy. Your health care provider can discuss options for their removal if necessary. Genital warts also may be removed to ensure a safe and healthy delivery of the newborn. Sometimes genital warts grow larger during pregnancy, making it difficult to urinate if the warts are in the urinary tract. If the warts are in the vagina, they can make the vagina less elastic and cause obstruction during delivery.
Rarely, infants born to women with genital warts develop warts in their throats (respiratory papillomatosis). Although uncommon, it is a potentially life-threatening condition for the child, requiring frequent laser surgery to prevent obstruction of the breathing passages. Research on the use of interferon therapy with laser surgery indicates that this drug may show promise in slowing the course of the disease.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, please contact the Center for Women’s Health at 913-491-6878.