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Genital Warts
(Condyloma Acuminata; Venereal Warts; Human Papillomavirus)

Definition:
Genital warts are growths or bumps that appear on the vulva, in or around the vagina or anus, on the cervix, and on the penis, scrotum, groin, or thigh. The warts may be raised or flat, single or multiple, small or large, and some may cluster together forming a cauliflower-like shape.

Rarely, genital warts also can develop in the mouth or throat of a person who has had oral sex with an infected person.

Causes:
Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a family of more than 80 extremely common viruses. Many types of HPV cause harmless skin warts, such as those on the fingers or feet. Only a few specific types of HPV are thought to cause genital warts.

HPV is easily spread during oral, genital, or anal sex with an infected partner. About two-thirds of people who have sexual contact with a partner who has genital warts will develop them also, usually within three months of contact.

Most people will be exposed to a form of HPV at some point in their lives, although not all will become infected or develop symptoms. Warts can appear within several weeks after sexual contact with an infected person, or they can take months to appear.

Complications of HPV:Cancer
Most strains of HPV that produce genital warts do not cause cancer. But certain strains of HPV may cause cervical cancer, or less commonly, cancers of the vulva, anus, or penis. For this reason, it is important for women to have annual Pap tests to detect any HPV-related abnormalities.

Pregnancy/Childbirth Complications
Genital warts may become larger during pregnancy, which may make it difficult to urinate. If the warts are in or near the vaginal opening, they may block the birth canal during delivery.

Risk Factors:
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. Risk factors for contracting HPV and/or genital warts:
  • Age: 15-30 years old
  • Multiple sexual partners
  • Having sex without condoms
  • Skin-to-skin contact with an infected partner
  • Previous history of genital warts
  • Pregnancy
  • Smoking
  • Oral contraceptives
  • Having sex at an early age
Symptoms:
Genital warts often look like fleshy, raised growths with a cauliflower shape. They often appear in clusters.

In women, warts may be found in the following areas:

  • Vulva or vagina
  • Inside or around the vagina or anus
  • Cervix

In men, genital warts are less common. If present, they are usually found in the following areas:

  • Tip or shaft of the penis
  • The scrotum
  • Around the anus

The following symptoms may also be present:

  • Bleeding
  • Itching
  • Irritation
  • Burning
  • Secondary bacterial infection with redness, tenderness, or pus
Diagnosis:
Evidence of genital warts may be diagnosed by the following:

Visual Exam
A doctor can diagnose genital warts by visual examination. If external warts are found, the cervix is usually checked for warts as well. Application of acetic acid may assist in identifying lesions that do not have classic features.

Pap Smear
Abnormal Pap smear results may indicate the presence of HPV. However, the Pap test is not the most accurate test for HPV. Further tests, such as a colposcopy, should be performed if Pap results are abnormal.

Colposcopy and Biopsy
Colposcopy is a test that enables the doctor to identify warts that might not be easily visible. A biopsy involves taking a sample of tissue to be tested.

HPV Testing
A swab or some cells from the affected area can be checked for specific types of HPV.

Treatment:
Treatment for genital warts depends on the size and location of the warts. Treatment only alleviates the symptoms. It does not cure the virus. Since the virus remains, warts or other complications may recur later.

Treatments may include:

Topical Treatments
Your doctor may recommend one of the following treatments or solutions, to be applied to the affected areas:
  • Imiquimod cream
  • Podophyllum resin
  • Podofilox solution
  • 5-Fluorouracil cream
  • Trichloroacetic acid
Cryosurgery, Electrocautery, or Laser Treatment
Cryosurgery (freezing), electrocautery (burning), and laser are all methods that instantly destroy warts. These methods are used if the warts are small, or if the warts are large and have not responded to other treatment. Surgical removal is sometimes recommended for large warts. An antiviral drug called alpha interferon can be injected directly into warts that keep recurring.

Prevention:
The only way to completely prevent the spread of an HPV infection is to avoid physical contact with an infected sexual partner.

Latex condoms may help reduce the spread of HPV infection and genital warts. However, they are not 100% effective, because they cannot cover the entire genital area.

Other preventive measures include:

  • Sexual abstinence
  • Monogamous sexual relationships
  • Regular checkups for sexually transmitted diseases
  • Regular Pap smears for women starting at age 18 or at the onset of sexual activity, whichever comes earlier
Special Considerations
Anogenital warts are rare in children. Such a diagnosis should prompt consideration of sexual abuse, and should be reported.
 
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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