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Genital Warts

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What do genital warts look like?

Genital warts look like small, fleshy lumps on or around the genitals (vagina or penis) or anus. There may be one wart or a cluster of many warts that form a large warty area that looks like a cauliflower.

Genital warts can be skin-coloured, red, pink, grey or white.

Warts that develop on warm, moist and non-hairy areas (such as the vulva) are often soft. Warts that develop on dry, hairy areas of skin (such as around the bottom) tend to be firm.

How do you get rid of genital warts?

Genital warts can go away on their own without treatment. However, this may take many months.
See your doctor or visit a sexual health clinic if you have, or think you may have, genital warts. They can advise you on the best treatment for getting rid of genital warts. Treatment options include:

  • cream or liquid applied directly to the warts a few times a week for several weeks
  • surgery - a doctor or nurse can cut, burn or laser the warts off
  • freezing - a doctor or nurse can freeze the warts by applying liquid nitrogen to the warts, usually every week for four weeks

Genital warts may return after treatment. This is because treating a wart does not kill the virus that causes the condition, it only removes the warty lump. However, your body may remove the virus on its own in time.

What causes genital warts?

Genital warts are caused by a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV). You can catch this from other people with the virus, even if they do not have visible warts.

You can get genital warts from:

  • skin-to-skin sexual contact, including vaginal and anal sex
  • sharing sex toys
  • oral sex

Less commonly, the virus can be passed on from hand warts or from mother to baby during childbirth.

Do genital warts hurt?

Genital warts are usually painless. However, they can cause itchiness and irritation, especially if the warts form around the anus.

Are genital warts contagious?

Yes. Genital warts are caused by a virus (human papillomavirus) that can be passed from person to person through:

  • skin-to-skin sexual contact, including vaginal and anal sex
  • sharing sex toys
  • oral sex
  • childbirth - a mother with genital warts can pass them to her baby
    contact with hand warts

Can genital warts be cured?

There's no cure for genital warts, but it is possible for your body to clear the virus over time.

How long does it take for genital warts to appear?

If you have been infected with the virus that causes genital warts, you may not develop any warts or symptoms. If symptoms do appear, it can happen over a year after infection.

Do genital warts go away on their own?

Genital warts disappear on their own in around one in three people with visible genital warts. However, this can take up to several months.
Your body can also clear the virus that causes genital warts on its own in time.

Can you still be sexually active with genital warts?

Genital warts are passed on through sexual contact. This means that you should not have sex while you are having treatment for genital warts. You can still pass on genital warts after treatment because treatments for genital warts do not kill the virus that causes the infection.

You can reduce the risk of passing on genital warts by using a condom every time you have vaginal, anal or oral sex. However, using a condom cannot completely prevent the virus from being passed on. This is because the virus may be present in areas of skin that are not covered by a condom.

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