Genital warts are caused by an infection of the skin of the genital and anal area with the human papilloma virus (HPV).
There are over 100 different types of HPV which can affect different parts of the body. Approximately 30 types of HPV can live in and around the genital and anal areas but most genital warts are caused by just two types of virus (types 6 and 11).
How are genital warts passed on?
Genital warts are passed on through sexual contact. Anyone who is sexually active can get the virus and pass it on.
- Genital warts can spread from one person to another during vaginal or anal sex
- The virus can be spread by skin to skin contact, so can be passed by close genital contact
- The virus will not pass through a condom but as condoms do not cover all of the genital area it is possible to infect genital skin that is not covered by the condom
- The virus is most likely to be passed on when the warts are present but it is possible to pass on the virus even when the warts have disappeared.
You cannot get genital warts from kissing, hugging, sharing baths or towels, from swimming pools, toilet seats or from sharing cups, plates or cutlery
What are the signs and symptoms?
Most people with the HPV infection will not develop any visible warts and the virus will go away on its own. This means that you will not know if they have the virus. If warts appear it can be form three weeks to many months or even years, after coming into contact with the virus.
- In women warts can be found on the vulva, cervix and upper thighs, in the vagina and on or inside the anus
- In men, warts can be found on the penis, scrotum, urethra and the upper thighs, and on or inside the anus.
- They can be flat or smooth small bumps or quite large, pink cauliflower-like bumps
- Warts can appear on their own or in groups
- Genital warts are usually painless but may occasionally itch and some inflammation
How will I know if I have the infection?
You can only be certain you have genital warts if a nurse or doctor looks at the wart and confirms you have the infection.
What is the treatment for genital warts?
You will only be offered treatment if you have any visible warts. The treatment will depend on what the warts look like, how many you have and where they are.
Is there a vaccine against genital warts?
All girls aged 12-13 are offered Cervarix to protect against HPV 16and 18(the types that can cause cell changes that lead to cancer) as part of a national vaccination programme this does not however currently protect you against genital warts.