What Are Genital Warts?
- Genital Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
Genital Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is one of over 40 types of HPV and is the most common form of sexually transmitted disease. These types of HPV are easily spread as most people who carry the disease are note even aware that they are infected.
Those that do develop signs of an infection most often find warts in their genital areas. The name “Genital Warts” refers to the few types of HPV that can cause this symptom to appear.
It is estimated that over 20 million Americans are infected with genital HPV. The number is increasing at a rate of nearly 5.5 million per year, although most infection clear up on their own, without treatment.
What Are the Symptoms?
- Genital Warts
While most people who are infected will not develop any symptoms, those that do may find some of the following:
- Small clusters of warts in the genital area (may spread to larger areas)
- May also appear as small stalks
- Males will develop the warts on the tip or shaft of the penis, the scrotum and anus
- Females tend to have outbreaks on the interior and exterior of the vagina, the cervix, uterus and anus.
- In rare cases, warts may appear in the mouth and throat.
It may take years for a person to develop symptoms after contracting the virus. In other cases, symptoms may never appear and the infected person will have no idea that they are carrying HPV.
- Cervical Cancer
A persistent HPV infection may cause cervical cancer. The incubation period is lengthy, taking as long as fifteen years to develop. It is very rare that HPV will cause cervical cancer, especially if regular screening is performed. Should the cancer develop, survival rate exceed 90%.
Of the 12,200 women who contract the cancer, it’s estimated that 50% of them never had a screening.
How Are Genital Warts Spread?
- Sexual Intercourse
During sex, microscopic tears occur in the mucosal surface which can allow the virus to pass through and infect the underlying cells. When engaging in sex with an infected partner with no outward symptoms, there’s still a seventy percent chance of contracting the disease.
Genital warts can also be spread through oral sex.
An infected mother can sometimes pass the virus onto the baby during birth. This is a very rare occurrence. It may cause the child to develop recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (RRP), but it is estimated that this occur in less than 1 child in every 100,000.
There is currently no medical treatment for HPV. In most cases, the immune system will clear up an HPV infection in a few years.
Should the infection persist, there are treatments to help alleviate the symptoms (mainly warts) of HPV.
- Several creams and ointments are available on the market to treat visible warts
- Cryosurgery is used to freeze and remove genital warts
- Large warts can be surgically removed, but may leave scars
- Lasers can vaporize the infected tissue, but this process is very expensive
- Oral medication is being used experimentally, and only as a last resort
Preventing Against HPV
Like all sexually transmitted diseases, there are methods that may help to reduce the risk of contracting the virus and developing genital warts.
- Avoiding genital contact with other individuals is the surest form of prevention
- Long-term, monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner
- Choosing a partner with fewer prior sexual partners will reduce the chances of them having contracted the virus
There is insufficient evidence to suggest that the use of condoms will reduce the risk of infection. However, condom use is linked to reducing the risk of cervical cancer.
HPV vaccination attempts to prevent symptoms of the disease from manifesting by preventing the infection itself or attempting to stop the infestation from persisting
HPV vaccines will help protect against genital warts, but should be combined with other preventative measures. The vaccination itself is not a cure because there are a few types of genital HPV that it doesn’t work on, and it’s not 100% effective on the types it does affect.