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Genital Warts and Human Papillomavirus Infection (HPV)

What are genital warts?

Genital warts are bumps or flat plaques on genital skin, around the anus, in the vagina, or on the cervix.

Genital Warts
Genital Warts
Genital Warts

What are the symptoms?

Sometimes there are no symptoms. A woman or her partner may feel warts with a finger. There may be itching, and sometimes intercourse can irritate warts or make them bleed.

What is the cause of these warts?

They are caused by the human papillomavirus.

How is the virus transmitted?

This virus is sexually transmitted by skin-to-skin contact with an infected partner. During sexual activity, tiny scrapes and tears occur in the skin and mucous membranes permitting the virus to enter the area. The virus can also invade intact skin. The cell then sheds new viral particles which infect other cells. It can take months or years for the virus to cause warts or changes in the Pap smear. Transmission is also possible from sharing intimate clothing. The infection is highly contagious. Up to 80% of sexually active college women have been infected with the virus. 50-70% of exposed partners may develop warts or abnormal Pap smears.

Is this infection dangerous?

There are over 100 types of human papillomavirus (HPV). Some do not cause genital warts but may cause cellular changes that could lead to cervical cancer.

What kind of tests can be done to determine if I am infected?

  • An experienced medical provider can often diagnose genital warts simply on the basis of appearance of the lesions.
  • If you are 21 or older, a Pap smear can be done.

Is there a cure?

There are treatments which can cause the warts to disappear and the virus effects to vanish from the infected genital tissues. At present, there is no treatment that can eradicate HPV from the body. The immune system begins to limit viral activity within 6 months after infection. There is evidence that 90% of infected people will clear their infection within two years, but it is not known whether this means the virus is gone from the body. Some may keep it for life. There are differing opinions on how long HPV may remain in the body.

What are the treatments offered at Student Health Services?

  • Cryosurgery (freezing): liquid gas applied by provider
  • Aldara by prescription, self applied at home

It is possible for warts or abnormal Pap to recur years after an apparent cure.

How can I avoid contracting this virus?

  • First, always use condoms, even though condoms will only partially protect because the virus can be present on areas not covered by a condom, such as the scrotum. The only certain way of avoiding infection is to have no genital contact at all.
  • Second, get the HPV vaccine.

What else can I do if I'm infected?

You can help to strengthen your immune system by practising what you already know to be healthy habits: exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, eating a healthful diet, avoiding stress, taking a multi vitamin daily, and continuing to use condoms. Women who use condoms faithfully may clear the virus more rapidly.

Does infection with this virus provide immunity?

No. You can become infected with other types of HPV. Remember – there are over 100 types.

Adapted from the University of South Carolina Student Health Services