Genital warts are a type of sexually transmitted disease caused by certain strains of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV).
HPV has received much attention in scientific and medical communities in recent years, in part due to its association with cervical cancer and the development of a new vaccine to prevent certain types of HPV. Genital warts do not cause cervical cancer, but the presence of the virus must be taken very seriously. This article describes genital warts and discusses the causes, symptoms, and treatment options of this virus.
Genital warts are caused by the HPV virus and spread through sexual contact with an infected individual. HPV is actually a family of over 150 different strains of viruses, but the majority of genital warts are caused by two strains of the virus (type 6 and 11). Genital warts are spread through skin-to-skin contact, thus condoms alone will not prevent its transmission, making it a difficult STD to prevent. After exposure through sexual contact, symptoms can take up to one year to develop, which means that an infected individual can continue to spread the virus before they realize they have it. Additionally, it is estimated that a low percentage of the population actually develops symptoms of genital warts, even if they are carrying the HPV virus in their bodies. This asymptomatic presence further contributes to the spread of the virus. These factors contribute to the high prevalence of the HPV virus among the human population (doctors estimate that 25 to 40% of the population carries some strain of HPV).
The HPV virus targets the epithelial tissue, which is found on the skin and in the lining of many of the body’s cavities. As such, forms of HPV can occur on nearly every part of the body. Genital warts are named as such since they commonly occur in the genital regions and are spread by sexual contact. Genital warts most typically appear on the penis, scrotum, vagina, vulva, cervix, anus, perianal area, and the mouth. When genital warts occur in women, the first symptom is usually the appearance or sensation of small, gritty-like lumps that become larger over time. In men, warts usually look similar to warts that form on a person’s hands. The lumps are usually flesh-colored, and range in size. Some people experience clusters of small bumps, while others have only one or two growths. It is important to visit a doctor if you suspect you have genital warts, as they can be difficult to diagnosis by sight alone. Diagnosis is important so that you can receive effective treatment and stop the spread of the virus to other partners.
Although genital warts and their prevalence in our population may seem frightening, they are rarely painful or result in severe medical complications. While a very small percentage of people may experience difficulty in urinating or bleeding during intercourse, most people notice only a change in their skin’s topography. Treatment, however, is very important to prevent further spread and to remove the virus from your skin. In New York, Goldenberg Dermatology offers several treatment options to their patients. Treatment for genital warts includes removal by electrocautery or surgical excision. Cryosurgery, the most commonly used treatment option, essentially freezes the wart so it will die and fall from the skin. Our doctors may use a variety of other pharmaceuticals or chemicals to treat and/or remove warts. These may include Imiquimod, Veregen, Podophyllin, and podofilox (Condylox) or Trichloroacetic acid (TCA). They also now provide a new form of treatment called Swift which targets the local immune system to clear the virus. With adequate medical intervention, genital warts can be successfully treated and the patient’s skin will return to its normal appearance and texture.