Genital Warts

Human Papilloma Virus - HPV

Genital warts are caused by Human Papilloma Virus – HPV - and are transmitted through genital contact. HPV is the most common STI in North America. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that 50% of sexually active men and women will acquire the virus during their lifetimes.

Although there are more than 30 strains of HPV that can be transmitted sexually, most of them are benign and cause no symptoms or danger. In fact, a person may be a carrier of the virus and not know it. Once transmitted, the virus resides in skin cells or mucous membranes. Most women clear the infection over time, but some people carry the virus for the rest of their lives. They may never develop warts nor any symptoms from the disease. Some strains, however, can lead to cervical or rectal cancer, in rare cases.

Warts may appear on the genitals of both males and females. They look like small grey, slightly-raised, painless, ridged round bumps. You may notice just one, or it may develop into a cluster that looks like a cauliflower. You will not be aware of the infection if the warts are in your vagina, up in the urethra or in the anal canal of both males and females.

There are numerous strains of the virus, type 6 and 11 cause typical genital warts. But the most dangerous types are 16 and 18 because they replicate uncontrollably and are the ones that cause cancer of the cervix or cancer of the anal canal. Fortunately, these cancers are very slow to develop, so the chances are good that if you have a regular pelvic exam with a PAP smear, the cells will be picked up early. If diagnosed early, treatment is simple and effective. A recent study has linked prostate cancer to genital wart virus. Currently, there are no HPV tests available for men, but the rectum can be checked for warts.

A 5% solution of vinegar on a sponge and swab the genitals, vagina or rectum, the warts turn white and are quite visible with a strong light and a speculum or anal scope. But this simply cannot replace an annual Pap smear for women. Remember, the virus grows 10 times faster in the vagina or rectum than on skin.

TREATMENT:

Small simple external genital warts can be treated by your doctor by painting a chemical on, leave it for 3 hours, then have a bath to wash it off. You may need to go for repeat treatment as 1/3 of people who have been treated will have recurrences within a year.

There is a prescribed medication called ALDARA, a cream that is applied in a thin layer 3 times a week, before bed, and wash it off in the morning. Ask your doctor.

Vaginal or anal warts can be zapped with laser, cryotherapy to freeze them, surgical excision or injection of Interferon directly into the warts.

PREVENTION:

They are researching a vaccine against Genital Warts. Meanwhile, SAFER SEX is no guarantee of protection because the virus is spread skin-to-skin , but male or female condoms are the best preventive measures we have available. There is evidence that using condoms lowers the risk of developing cervical cancer. It is possible to transmit the infection to a partner even after you have been treated and have no symptoms because of possible “shedding” of skin cells. For this reason, you must always inform your partner that you have had the infection, and you should practice SAFER SEX.

Further Information:
Centers for Disease Control