About 400,000 Americans get genital warts each year. Genital warts are a type of STI caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). While there is no cure for HPV, you can get treated for genital warts. This STI appears as a small bump or group of bumps in the genital area. Some are so small you cannot see them. Treatment can only remove the wart, not cure HPV (the virus that causes it).
What are the Symptoms of Genital Warts?
Warts usually appear within months after having sexual contact with someone with the HPV types that cause genital warts. Sometimes it appears in just days or weeks, while other people do not show any until years later. Some people may get HPV but never get genital warts.
The warts usually appear as small bumps in the genital area. They are flesh-colored and can be flat or look bumpy like cauliflower. However, some are so small you cannot see them.
In women, they can grow inside the vagina, on the vulva, and around the anus. Rarely, it appears on the lips, mouth, tongue, or throat.
What Can I Do to Get Rid of Them?
No cure exists for HPV, but you can have warts removed. If you decide to have them removed, do not use over-the-counter medicines meant for other kinds of warts. There is a particular, prescription-only medicine for genital warts that a doctor or nurse can prescribe.
Your doctor may apply a chemical to treat them in the doctor’s office or prescribe a cream for you to apply at home. Your doctor may use a laser, freeze, or use an electric current to remove them. Surgery is also an option.
How Can I Prevent Them?
Genital warts are spread most often through direct skin-to-skin contact during vaginal or anal sex. HPV, the virus that causes warts, can be spread even if the person does not have any visible signs that you can see.
You can lower your risk of getting an STI with the following steps:
- Get the HPV vaccine. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the HPV vaccine for people ages 9 through 45. The HPV vaccine protects against HPV types that cause most genital warts and most cervical cancers.
- Use condoms. Condoms are the best way to prevent STIs when you have sex. Make sure to put the condom on before the penis touches the vagina, mouth, or anus. You can get genital warts from direct skin-to-skin contact. Other methods of birth control will not protect you from STIs.
- Get tested. Be sure you and your partner test for STIs. Talk to each other about the test results before you have sex.
- Be monogamous. Having sex with just one partner can lower your risk for STIs.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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