Genital warts are a common type of sexually transmitted infection that cause fleshy bumps to appear on or around the genital area. The upper thighs or inside and around the anus are also areas where warts can develop. Genital warts are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) and though they are usually painless they often cause psychological distress as they can be quite unpleasant to look at.
If you suspect you have genital warts, or a recent or current sexual partner develops them, you should seek medical advice. Even if no warts are visible it is possible to get advice on how to check yourself and what to do if they appear.
Most people carrying the HPV infection do not show any signs of being infected; it may be weeks, months or years after being exposed to the infection that the warts appear.
In some people the warts can become itchy and inflamed, which may cause small localised bleeding.
HPV covers several strains of viruses, the most common types to cause genital warts are type six and type 11.
Transmission occurs through skin to skin contact, predominantly by:
- Vaginal sex
- Anal sex
- Non-penetrative genital to genital contact
- Shared sex toys
- (in some cases) Oral sex
If no genital warts are visible treatment is not required. However when the warts are visible the treatment will vary according to their type and location.
The main treatment options are:
- Topical treatments- using creams and lotions to destroy the warts
- Ablation- removing the warts by heating or freezing them
- For many people it can take several treatments to successfully remove the warts, so it is important to persevere with the recommended treatment once it has started.
Whilst condoms can restrict the passing of genital warts from one person to another they do not protect the entire genital area, therefore it is still possible to pass HPV on to the uncovered skin.
Always avoid sharing sex toys, and if you do share them make sure to wash or cover them with a new condom before anyone else uses them.
The HPV vaccine is a good method for protection against the HPV viral strains type six and 11, it also helps protect against types 16 and 18 that are linked to the majority of cases of cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine is available in Gibraltar for girls aged 12-13 years, offered in the first year of high-school. Research is unclear if there is any benefit in having the HPV vaccine if you:
- Are male
- Have already had sexual intercourse
- Are an older women who is outside the vaccination schedule