Genital Warts Frequently Asked Questions

1. What causes genital warts?

Genital warts are caused by a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV). This virus causes papillomas or warts. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease (STD). There are more than 40 types of HPV that can infect genital areas of males and females.

2. What are the symptoms of genital warts?

Many people with genital warts complain of itching, irritation, bleeding, discharge and pain. An early infection might not be obvious, so you could have genital warts and not know it.

Any growth or sore on your genitals is a cause for concern and should be examined by your doctor.

Warts can appear within weeks, months or even years after sexual contact with an infected partner—even if the infected partner has no signs of genital warts. If left untreated, genital warts might go away, remain unchanged, or increase in size or number. While most genital warts do not cause cancer, that possibility still exists; so it is important to see your doctor.

For women, genital warts may cause blood to appear in the urine, itching or burning when urinating or pain during intercourse. Vaginal warts may cause a discharge or bleeding. In cases where genital warts have grown, this growth could obstruct the birth canal during a pregnancy.

In men, penile warts will cause itching.  Anal warts will also cause itching, bleeding and possible pain during bowel movements.

Bleeding is always a cause for concern and you should see your doctor.

3. Are genital warts contagious?

Genital warts are highly contagious. People usually contract genital warts by coming in direct contact with another person’s genitals or anus during vaginal, anal or oral sex. It may be a finger that spreads the disease from one infected area of the body to an uninfected area, or simply a towel. People with genital warts need to use fresh towels when bathing, and should know to dry the infected areas last.

4. What do genital warts look like?

Genital warts can occur singularly or in groups. Their appearance can come in many forms. They can be flat and hard to see, or protruding and large. The color can be pink, red or flesh colored growths. They can have many shapes. Genital warts can be cauliflower-like, rounded, or pointed finger-like projections. See genital warts pictures.

5. Can HPV cause genital warts and cancer?

It is estimated that half of the population will have the HPV virus at some point in their lives. The majority of the time, the body’s immune system fights the virus within two years and no lesions appear. However, there are times when the body can’t fight off the infection, which is when genital warts appear or abnormal cells develop that can cause cancer.

6. Why is it important for a person with genital warts to be checked by a physician?

It’s important to consult a physician because a diagnosis of HPV may lead to the diagnosis of other STDs, including syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes, and AIDS. Also, it is important for a woman to have a doctor perform a pap smear to make sure that abnormal cells do not turn into cervical cancer. Certain populations are at high risk for developing  HPV-related health problems. This includes gay and bisexual men, and people with weak immune systems (including those who have HIV/AIDS).

7. What about genital warts and pregnancy?

Genital warts may enlarge during pregnancy and can cause warts in the throat (laryngeal papillomatosis) in children born to women with genital warts.

8. How can I avoid getting genital warts?

Abstain from having sex. Limit sex to one partner. Use a condom properly. Don’t participate in having sex with a partner who has genital warts. If you are between the ages of 9 and 26 you may want to investigate the HPV vaccine. Do not share bath towels. Visible warts mean that the disease is highly contagious.