Genital Warts: Fast Facts About STDs

Fast Facts About STDs: HPV/Genital Warts

Name of Disease or Infection
Genital Warts, also known as HPV or Human Papillomavirus.

Type of Disease or Infection
Viral, caused by the human papillomavirus. Human papillomavirus is the name of a group of over 100 strains of viruses, over 30 of which are sexually transmitted.

How Common Is It?
Genital HPV infection is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the U.S., with over 6.3 million new cases a year. Most people who become infected with HPV will never have symptoms, and the infection will clear on its own. A lesser number will experience symptoms.

How Do I Get It?
Genital warts are transmitted through sexual contact.

Symptoms
HPV can cause warts that vary in size, shape and color. They can be soft, moist, flat, raised, pink or flesh colored. They may appear singly or in groups, and be small or large. If left untreated, some genital warts can spread and develop a cauliflower-like appearance. Most infected people never develop symptoms, but may still be infectious to others. Symptoms are likely to appear within weeks or months after exposure, or not at all. Some strains of HPV are low-risk types, meaning that they may cause mild abnormalities on a Pap test, or cause genital warts. Other high-risk strains can cause abnormal Pap tests and may develop into cancer of the vagina, penis, vulva, cervix or anus.

What Should I Do If I Think I Have It?
See your clinician or physician immediately for a colposcopy. The doctor will swab the skin with a diluted vinegar solution, and then examine the area with a magnifying lens and powerful light source. Warts will appear as white spots.

How Do I Get Rid of It?
Your physician can remove your warts via laser, freezing (cryosurgery), acid solution (Podophyllin cream) or surgery. Some people wait to see if the warts will clear up without treatment, which is possible. However, the virus that causes infection is not currently curable and therefore symptoms may reoccur.

What Happens If I Don't Treat It?
Genital warts have been associated with pre-cancerous and cancerous cell changes on the cervix and, less commonly, other genital areas. If left untreated, genital warts can block the opening to the urethra, vagina or anus, causing great discomfort.

Who Should I Tell?
If you have genital warts, you should tell any current, recent or future partners.

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