HPV & Genitial Warts

Know the Risk

Having sex is a big responsibility. Any time you have sex you are at risk for getting a sexually transmitted disease (STD). The more you know about STDs, the better you can protect yourself.

Click on the links below to learn detailed facts about STDs and how to keep yourself healthy.

HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that is caused by the Human Papilloma Virus.
HPV can be spread through sex and through close skin-to-skin contact.
Often its symptoms don't show up!
HPV causes warts in or around the mouth, genitals and anus.
Some types of HPV are linked to a higher risk of cervical cancer among women, which is why it is very important to get regular Pap smears (a specimen your provider collects from your cervix and uterus).
There is a vaccination for HPV called Gardasil, approved for girls and boys.
HPV is not curable, but the symptoms can be treated.

What is it?

HPV is short for Human Papillomavirus (pap-ill-o-ma-vi-rus). There are many different types of HPV. Some are "common" warts that are passed through non-sexual contact. There are over 30 types of genital HPV passed through sexual contact during anal or vaginal sex. Some genital HPV types are called high risk because they are the most common types of STD. People who have had unprotected sex with more than two partners in their lifetime probably have it, although it may be months or years before warts show up - if they show up at all. "Common" warts and genital warts can't be passed from one body part to another. If your partner has common warts on their hands, it can't be transmitted to your penis or vagina.

The many types of HPV are known by numbers. HPV types 6 and 11 have been shown to cause 90% of genital warts. HPV types 16 and 18 are called high risk because they can change the cells of the cervix (opening to the uterus) or the cells of the anus and lead to cancer, including penile cancer. Types 16 & 18 cause 70% of cervical and other cancers. For this reason, all sexually active women under 25 should have a pap smear (a sample your doctor collects from your cervix and uterus) every year.

How will I feel?

For most people with HPV, nothing happens. Their body fights the virus and gets rid of the infection. Typically genital warts will show up as wart-like bumps on the penis, in and around the vagina, on the cervix (the opening to the uterus) and/or around the rectum. There can be one wart or many warts, small or large. They are usually the same color as your skin although they can also be white. Warts do not cause itching or burning.

Sometimes genital warts are so small, they can't be seen. This means you are infected with Human Papillomavirus, but you may not know it.

What if I'm positive?

Currently, there is no cure for HPV, but treatments are available for the symptoms. Some treatments can only be done in a doctor's office or clinic. There are some you can buy at a drug store. The goal is to get rid of symptoms that are annoying or hurting. There isn't one treatment that works for everyone so it's important to work with your doctor to decide which is best for you. They'll look at the size, place and number of warts, changes in the warts, what you would like, cost of treatment, and many other factors.

Treatments that are done by a doctor include:

Cryotherapy: freezing of the wart.
Podophyllin: chemical treatment.
TCA (trichloeracetic acid): treatment applied to the surface of the wart.
Cutting off warts: this treatment removes the warts in one office visit so you don't have to return over and over again.
Electrocautery: burning off warts with an electric current.
Laser therapy: using an intense light to destroy warts. This is used for large or extensive warts that haven't gone away with other treatments.
Imiquimod cream (Aldara): treatment you put on for external genital warts. Aldara also boosts the immune system to fight HPV.
Podofilox cream or gel (Condylox): treatment you put on that kills the skin of genital warts. This treatment takes about four weeks.

NOTE: Treatments for "common" warts (like the kind you buy over the counter) should NOT be used in the genital area!

The FDA approved a vaccine for boys and girls to prevent HPV which can cause genital warts and can lead to cancer later in life. This vaccine is recommended for boys and girls ages 11-26. The Gardasil (gard-a-sil) vaccine protects against "high risk" types of HPV as well as blocking "low risk" types found in most cases of genital warts.

Not having sex is the only way to be sure you won't be infected with HPV. If you are having sex, use condoms correctly every time you have oral, anal, and vaginal sex to make sure you stay STD free. The risk for HPV is connected to the number of sex partners you have: the more sex partners, the greater the risk! Get STD check-ups every three to six months (that means at least twice a year, up to four times a year) to make sure viruses, like HPV, are caught early and treated quickly!