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What Are Genital Warts?

Condyloma acuminatum is the medical term for warts that occur in the genital area, including the urethra (the tube taking urine from the bladder to outside the body) and anus. Genital warts are thought to be one of the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD). People who are 17 to 33 years old are at greatest risk of getting genital warts.

What Causes Genital Warts?

The cause is the same human papillomavirus (HPV) that causes other warts. About 90% are caused by HPV-6 and HPV-11. These warts are much more contagious than other warts and are easily passed from skin of infected people. After exposure, warts appear in 1 to 6 months. Having multiple sex partners and prior history of STD are risk factors for getting these warts.

What Are the Symptoms of Genital Warts?

People usually have no symptoms, but itching, burning, and discharge can occur if the warts become irritated or infected. These warts appear on moist surfaces, such as the penis and the entrance to the vagina and rectum. They grow in clusters, as small pink or white nodules. The warts are small, but the clusters can quickly become very large, cauliflower-like masses. Complications of untreated warts can include cervical cancer in females and urinary blockage in males if they occur on the urethra.

How Are Genital Warts Diagnosed?

The health care provider will make a diagnosis by the look of the warts at physical examination. The health care provider may also do a culture or biopsy of the area. Testing may also be done for other STDs.

How Are Genital Warts Treated?

A health care provider should treat genital warts. Don’t use over-the-counter wart removers. Topical medicines such as imiquimod, 5-fluorouracil, podofilox, and trichloroacetic acid cream can be applied to small warts. Larger warts may be treated with liquid nitrogen. Laser treatment or surgical removal may be needed. Warts commonly come back, so treatment may need to be repeated. The health care provider may prescribe ointment to apply at home.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Genital Warts:

  • DO apply medicine as instructed.
  • DO keep follow-up health care provider appointments until all warts are gone.
  • DO tell sexual partners about your condition so that they can be examined and treated.
  • DO avoid sex until warts are completely gone.
  • DO use proper hygiene.
  • DO get tested for other STDs.
  • DO always use latex condoms during sex.
  • DO get vaccinated if you are female (all girls and women ages 11 to 26) with HPV recombinant vaccine (Gardasil®). It will protect against genital warts caused by HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18. HPV vaccine is recommended in all males ages 9 to 26 years old to protect against genital warts.
  • DO call your health care provider if warts come back.
  • DO call your health care provider if treated areas show signs of infection: redness, swelling, tenderness, or foul smell.
  • DON’T apply medicine to moles, birthmarks, or warts that are bleeding.
  • DON’T have sex until warts are gone and healing is complete.
  • DON’T skip follow-up appointments. Warts can come back, and you may need a different treatment.

Contact the following sources:

  • The American Social Health Association
    Tel: (800) 230-6039
  • National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

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