Genital Warts and HPV: facts and Unknowns
Genital warts are a very common sexually transmitted disease that is caused by the virus Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). The virus causes small fleshy bumps and growths to appear around the genitals, upper thighs, and anus. It is spread through direct skin-to-skin contact with someone who is infected with the virus, including contact during sexual activity. It can also be spread by sharing sex toys or from mother to baby during birth.
Genital warts can appear months or even years after you are originally infected. You may only experience a breakout of symptoms once or find that they reoccur on a regular basis.
Genital Wart and HPV Symptoms
Genital warts can appear around the external genitals, anus, the anal canal, upper thighs, mouth, and throat. In women, they can additionally grow in the cervix, on the vulva, and on the walls of the vagina, and in men, they can appear on the tip or shaft of the penis and on the scrotum.
Symptoms of genital warts include:
- A cauliflower-shaped growth is caused by several growths grouped close together
- Small flesh-colored, brown, or pink growths
- Itching or discomfort in the genital region
- Bleeding during sex
- Changes to your urine stream
- Genital Wart Testing
There aren’t any specific tests for HPV, but if you are sexually active you should get regular STD testing from your GP or a sexual health clinic. Your doctor or clinician will be able to advise you further if they suspect you might have HPV.
For women, HPV testing is part of routine cervical screening where the more high-risk, potentially cancerous forms of HPV are screened for. Men who have sex with men may receive anal screening.
Genital Warts and HPV Prevention
Genital warts can’t be cured so preventing infection is the best way to protect yourself. Those who have multiple partners are most at risk of HPV. Don’t rely on your eyesight as a method of checking whether a partner has genital warts because it’s possible to spread genital warts without realizing it. This is because sometimes the infection presents with no symptoms or visible growths. Using protection can help prevent infection somewhat, but there is still a risk if there is still skin-to-skin contact in the genital region or if you have oral sex.
In addition to having fewer sexual partners, you should also pack in cigarettes if you’re a smoker. Studies have shown that smokers are more likely to contract the virus after exposure and are also more likely to have recurrent episodes of warts.
Since 2008, there has been an effective two-dose HPV vaccine available in the UK. The HPV vaccine is especially effective against the high-risk types of HPV that can lead to genital warts and certain cancers. If you haven’t received the HPV vaccine, contact your local pharmacy or your GP. Depending on your age, you may be able to get it on the NHS or through private vaccination services.
Genital Wart Treatment
If you develop genital warts, you should refrain from sex until your infection has cleared up. Keep the area dry and wear all-cotton underwear to get enough ventilation to your genitals.
There are also medications you can take to help stop the infection from spreading and from getting worse. In some cases, treatment may even make you less likely to infect your partner. Treatments include antibiotics like Azithromycin tablets and Doxycycline capsules as well as topical creams like Aldara Cream Sachets.
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