What Causes Genital Warts?
Genital warts refer to contagious, fleshy growths that occur in the genital area. Genital warts are among the most common types of sexually transmitted infections. They usually consist of fibrous overgrowths that are covered by a thickened, outer layer. They may appear around a woman’s cervix or genital regions.
So, what causes Genital warts?
They are caused by HPV or human papillomavirus. There exist a hundred different types of HPV. Out of this, nearly forty can infect your genital skin. A significant number of genital warts are caused by HPV type 6 and HPV type 11. These types of HPV are usually described as low-risk HPV because the likelihood of them causing cancer is very minimal.
So, how prevalent are HPV and Genital warts?
HPV is more common than you think. According to some studies, HPV currently affects up to 45% of women and men. And the more your sexual partners, the higher your chances of contracting HPV. Unfortunately, for women, HPV is more common the more sexual partners your male partner has. However, not everybody who contracts HPV exhibits visible warts.
So, how is HPV transmitted?
Human papillomavirus is transmitted through a sexual encounter. This may be through sex or close genital contact. Studies also suggest that it could be possible for HPV to be passed on from hands to the genital area. However, this is usually a rare happening. It is very unlikely for HPV to be transmitted through touching or coming into contact with non-living objects including towels or toilet seats.
So, what are some of the most common signs and symptoms of genital warts?
Genital warts usually appear as fleshy growth on the skin. Warts may occur as a cluster or just one. They will grow anywhere on your anal or genital skin. In males, warts usually tend to appear on the penis, urethra, or at the anus. Consequently, they will appear on the vulva, cervix, anus or vagina.
So, how can I treat genital warts?
Whereas visible genital warts usually disappear on their own with time, HPV itself will probably linger in your skin cells. This implies that you will experience several outbreaks during your lifetime. So, it is very important to treat genital warts to avoid recurring HPV episodes.
There are numerous genital warts treatment options including:
- Liquid Nitrogen
- Clinical application of topical medication
- Medicated cream
You should be aware of the fact that most of these treatment methods need to be used numerous times before all warts disappear. If the visible genital warts don’t disappear with time, you may need minor surgical procedures to remove them. Though surgical methods can successfully remove almost all warts at one visit, they might pose some discomfort, but will also require local anesthetic.
Can HPV infection be treated and how long will it remain infectious?
It is imperative to note that the available warts treatment options are usually aimed at removing warts but not to cure the entire HPV infection. As previously mentioned, most human papillomavirus infections usually disappear on their own within one or two years.
So, how long will it take for warts to disappear completely?
With proper treatment, your genital warts will probably go away within weeks to months. However, if in any case, the warts aren’t responding, you may need to change your treatment method as this is known to speed up their clearance. The total number of warts present at the beginning of the treatment is usually the most accurate way to predict how long it will take to eliminate all warts.
However, it is worth noting that even after all warts have all disappeared, some wart virus will remain in your skin.
Can genital warts recur even after treatment?
Bearing in mind that the wart virus usually affects a big portion of your genital skin, it is very much possible for newer warts to appear even after treatment has eliminated all visible warts. Of course, new warts can be treated accordingly. According to different studies, the number of people who experience recurrence varies between 10% and 90%.
What other tests should you have?
As previously explained, high-risk types of HPV may sometimes progress into cancer of the cervix. Very rarely, they may also go on to cause cancer of the vagina, vulva, anus or penis. Your doctor will need to carry out a Pap smear test to identify any pre-cancerous changes as a result of HPV infection at the cervix. With the appropriate treatment, the identified changes can be successfully treated before cancer develops into something serious.
There is also an option of HPV testing which can be done in the same setting as the pap smear test.
In Singapore, every female aged 25 and above who has ever had sex is highly recommended to undergo a Pap smear test every three years. This is regardless of whether a woman has been previously infected with genital warts or not and this is because HPV infection can sometimes be asymptomatic.
Again, if either you or your partner has any sexually transmitted infection such as genital warts, you are strongly advised to undergo a medical checkup for other common sexually transmitted infections or diseases such as syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, hepatitis B and HIV/AIDS.
Will genital warts affect my pregnancy and baby?
During pregnancy, genital warts tend to increase both in number and size or recur in pregnancy. On very rare occasions, HPV can be transmitted from the mother to the baby during delivery. And because the chances of the baby catching the wart virus during birth, Caesarean section will only be preferred if there exist large warts that block the birth canal.
How effective are condoms in preventing the transmission of VPV?
There is no single scientific research that has been able to provide an answer to this particular question. However, some studies suggest that condoms may offer protection against transmitting HPV from one infected person to the other whereas some suggest they don’t. If you regularly use condoms during intercourse, they may protect you from contracting HPV.
Above all, using condoms appropriately, each time you are having intercourse will protect you from numerous sexually transmitted infections and diseases such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis B and HIV/AIDS.
Why do those who have never had anal sex sometimes experience anal warts?
It is very much possible for anal warts to appear in those who have never had anal sex. Perhaps it is because after the warts virus gets into your genital skin through one site, it can potentially spread throughout the rest of the anal and genital skin. As a result, it will show visible warts in all genital areas.
What is HPV vaccination and can it prevent me from contracting warts again?
Though there are HPV vaccines, they do not either treat or prevent the type of HPV you have already suffered from. Simply put, they will only prevent from catching other types of HPV you have never contracted. For optimal results, these vaccines should be used before having any sexual partner. Even after having the vaccine, women will still have to continue having routine Pap smear tests.
With HPV vaccination on the horizon, is it right to say HPV vaccination is for women only?
Men, too, are highly advised to have HPV vaccination. This is primarily because certain HPV strains including HPV 6 and 11 can cause genital warts in both men and women. What’s more, other HPV high-risk strains that are known to cause vulva, vagina, and cervical cancers among women. What’s more, they can result in anal cancer in both males and females.
So, as you may have guessed, both men and women need to undergo HPV vaccination. Also, it is important for people with a high risk of acquiring HPV infection as well as genital warts and those who experience recurring HPV episodes to undergo HPV vaccination.
Should I quit smoking now that I have HPV?
Research suggests that smoking not only increases the risk of your HPV progressing to genital cancer, but may also make the treatment of warts less effective. Simply put, you should stop smoking if you have genital warts.
There is no doubt that the best and safest way to prevent the transmission of HPV is to practice safer sex!
- O’Mahony, C., Gomberg, M., Skerlev, M., Alraddadi, A., de Las Heras-Alonso, M. E., Majewski, S., Nicolaidou, E., Serdaroğlu, S., Kutlubay, Z., Tawara, M., Stary, A., Al Hammadi, A., & Cusini, M. (2019). Position statement for the diagnosis and management of anogenital warts. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology : JEADV, 33(6), 1006–1019. https://doi.org/10.1111/jdv.15570
- Zhu, C., Wang, Y., Mao, W., Zhang, H., & Ma, J. (2019). Prevalence and distribution of HPV types in genital warts in Xi’an, China: a prospective study. BMJ open, 9(5), e023897. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2018-023897
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