Genital warts are classified as a sexually transmitted disease caused by the Human Papilloma Virus. It is one of the most common of all sexually transmitted diseases throughout the world, with the numbers of new cases per capita continuing to rise every year. According to the American Social Health Association, the United States alone sees 5.5 million new cases of genital warts annually. Most alarming is the fact that one out of every three carriers is unaware of their condition because they display no symptoms. Regardless, they are still able to spread the virus and infect others.
Genital Warts Causes
As previously stated, genital warts are caused by one of the hundreds of strains of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). While most HPV infections occur in the hands, feet, or mouth, the highest risk of infection is realized in the human genitals. In fact, there are approximately 30 strains of HPV linked to genital warts, which have a very high rate of infection as compared to other strains of the virus. In other words, uninfected people who come into sexual contact with infected partners are much more likely to contract genital warts than any other type of HPV related disease.
Genital warts are highly contagious and are easily spread through anal, genital, or oral sex. Symptoms generally take 2 to 3 months to develop, although it is possible to start seeing symptoms within a few days of contact. Experts estimate that two-thirds of all individuals exposed to genital warts through sexual contact will contract the disease. Although genital warts are usually nothing more than a nuisance for men, they can lead to much more serious problems for women, including cervical cancer.
Genital Warts Symptoms
From a visual standpoint, genital warts are generally small, raised, flesh-colored bumps that can occur anywhere in the genital area. Sometimes the warts are large enough to resemble a miniature piece of cauliflower, while other times they remain so small they can’t be seen with the human eye. They seldom discolor or break open and discharge.
In women, a medical examination will often reveal warts in or around the anus, vagina, and cervix. In men, warts most commonly appear on the penis, scrotum, groin area, inner thighs, and anus (if participating in anal sex). In both men and women, genital warts contracted from oral sex will appear on or around the mouth, tongue, lips, and throat. There are a few other symptoms of genital warts that are rare, including:
- moderate to severe itching; can occur in the anal area, or on the penis, scrotum, or vulva
- a noticeable feeling of the dampness around the area of the warts
- abnormal vaginal discharge
- vaginal bleeding either during or shortly after, sexual intercourse
Genital Warts Treatment
The most common treatment for genital warts is the application of a topical drug by your physician. If you suspect you may be suffering from this disease do not attempt to treat warts yourself using over-the-counter medications. These medications are not designed for genital warts and are strong enough to potentially cause damage the highly sensitive tissue in the genital region. Instead, you are encouraged to see your doctor who will examine you and provide a proper diagnosis and treatment.
If you have been diagnosed your doctor will request that you contact all of your sexual partners and encourage them to be tested as well. After your first treatment, there will be a follow-up, and successive treatments may be necessary. In cases where genital warts persist and are resistant to topical drugs, other treatments may include:
- cryosurgery (freezing)
- laser removal
- traditional surgery