Sexually Transmitted Infections.
What are genital warts?
Genital warts are one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STI's) and are the most common STI caused by a virus. You can get genital warts through oral, vaginal or anal sex or through close skin to skin contact with someone who has the virus in their skin. Very rarely, the virus can be passed from a mother with genital warts to her baby during childbirth. Most people who are exposed to the virus do not develop genital warts.
What are the symptoms?
The wart virus can cause small lumps (warts) to form on the skin of the genital area or around the anus (back passage) which can vary in size, shape and colour. Typically they are small, flat and smooth and are usually the same colour as the surrounding skin, but some can be brown or red. They can occur singly or in groups and can feel slightly rough to touch.
- They usually have no symptoms but they can itch and sometimes bleed if they are damaged.
- Warts are not always visible, especially if they occur inside the vagina or in the anus.
- Warts sometimes appear within 3 months of catching the virus but it is possible to develop warts years after infection and so it's usually not possible to know when you caught the virus.
What causes genital warts?
A Virus called Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). There are over a hundred different types of HPV but most genital warts are caused by just 2 types - HPV type 6 and HPV type 11.
Warts on the fingers or soles of the feet (verrucas) are caused by different types of HPV which do not spread to the genital skin.
How do you get tested for genital warts?
There is no test for genital warts but a doctor or nurse should be able to tell if you have warts by looking at them. People with genital warts should be tested for other STI's such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, HIV and syphilis.
How are genital warts treated?
Genital warts can be treated by applying special ointments or creams at home, by freezing them in the clinic or in certain situations by surgical removal under local anaesthetic.
They may return after treatment and smokers may respond less well to treatment than non-smokers. People with weakened immune systems and pregnant women can also take longer to get rid of their warts. Some treatments are not suitable during pregnancy so it is important to tell your doctor if you are trying for a baby.
Although it is quite common for warts to come back (often in the first 3 months after they have disappeared), most people will get rid of HPV over time.
Using condoms may help to reduce the risk of passing the virus on to your partner but only if the condom covers all the visible warts and is put on before skin contact occurs. If this is not possible it may be best to avoid sex until the warts have disappeared.
If you have warts you should go to your GP or a Sexual Health clinic.
What can happen if genital warts are not treated?
The warts may stay the same, increase in number or disappear if left untreated. They may disappear on their own in about 30% of people over 6 months, but as with treated warts, they may return.
Warts and pregnancy
It's not unusual for women to develop genital warts for the first time during pregnancy due to changes in the woman's immune system. However, the warts will usually go away in the weeks after the baby is born. Whilst warts can be treated in pregnancy, many of the treatments can be harmful to a developing baby so it is important to tell your doctor if you are pregnant or are trying for a baby so that they can choose a safe treatment.
The risk of passing the virus to your baby either during pregnancy or delivery is very small. Most pregnant women with warts will deliver their baby in the normal way without the need for a caesarean section.
You cannot tell by looking at someone if they have a sexually transmitted
infection, so if you are having sex (oral, anal or vaginal) the only way
to make sure you are not putting yourself at risk is to practise safer
- Always using condoms or femidoms (female condom inserted within the vagina) for vaginal sex.
- Always using condoms with water based lube for anal sex. Do not use condoms with spermicide if you are having anal sex.
- Always using flavoured condoms or dental dams (a latex shield that covers the mouth) when having oral sex.
- Trying non-penetrative sex like massage or mutual masturbation.
- Not sharing sex toys. If you do share sex toys, wash them or cover them with a new condom between each person who uses them.
Condoms / Femidoms also protect you from other STIs including HIV. Always check the packaging for the British Standard kitemark or European product mark as well as the date of expiry.
Free condoms are available throughout Dumfries & Galloway. See the Clinic List.
Testing and treatment is available from:
If you wish to be seen or are seeking sexual health advice:
Mon - Fri 9.00am - 4.00pm
- General Practitioners
Tel: 0345 702 3687 for other appointments