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Genital Warts

What are genital warts and why are they important?

Genital wart virus infection is one of the most common sexually transmissible diseases in the UK. It is caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). This virus is similar to wart virus that affects other parts of the body such as hands and feet. There are many different types of HPV, some of which can cause changes that lead to cervical cancer in women. Having genital wart virus infection does not mean you will get cervical cancer; however, women with genital warts, like all other women over 20 in Scotland, should have regular smear tests every three years. Men also get wart virus infection affecting the genital and anal skin.

How do people know they have genital warts?

Most people who are exposed to HPV will not develop genital warts. Probably as little as 10% of people infected will show signs of visible wart virus infection. It can take weeks, months or even years in some cases for warts to show after coming into contact with them. If warts develop you will notice small, pink or white cauliflower-like lumps (extra growths of skin) appearing on their own or in groups around or inside the genital area. Warts are usually painless growths of extra skin but occasionally can be itchy and do bleed sometimes if they are scratched. You can usually feel warts when you touch the skin, or they may be noticed by your partner.

How do people catch genital warts?

The virus lives in the outer layers of the skin but does not spread through the body. It is spread by close skin-to-skin contact. It can be passed between people during sex or close genital contact. It can also be passed by sharing sex-toys. Wart virus can be passed on to other people without any warts being visible.

What tests are there for genital warts?

If you or your partner, or a friend, are worried that you may have genital warts, get advice. You can visit your local Sandyford Clinic, or go to your local GP surgery. Sandyford services are specialist sexual health services that deal with sexually transmitted infections. They are completely confidential and free. You do not need to see your own doctor first.

There is not a specific test for genital warts. They are diagnosed by looking at the skin when you are examined. If everything in your genital area looks and feels normal then you probably do not have genital warts. If you are unsure, then get a health professional to look at them for you. Even if you have no signs or symptoms, you could still carry the wart virus.

Other sexual infections such as Chlamydia and gonorrhoea are more common in people with genital wart virus infection. Your local Sandyford Clinic will offer you tests for these infections when you attend.

If you are having a smear test, this might show that you have the wart virus infection, even if you do not have visible signs or symptoms. Even if you do have the genital wart virus infection, you do not need to have extra smears unless your doctor says that you should. This is usually for other reasons, not because of the wart virus infection.

What treatment is available?

If you have wart virus infection, you will be offered a treatment that is suitable for your type of infection. This will usually be an anti-wart liquid or cream to get rid of the visible warts. These treatments can be used at home. The other commonly used treatment is freezing. This is done by a doctor or a nurse at a clinic. Both types of treatment may need to be used for several weeks (on average, between four to 12 weeks)

Warning - Do not use wart treatments that you can buy at a chemist or pharmacy. They will not work and can cause considerable discomfort to the skin in the genital area. Genital skin is very sensitive.

Are genital warts dangerous during pregnancy?

In some pregnant women, genital warts can become very large. Often they will disappear after delivery of the baby. Some treatments are unsuitable during pregnancy and so treatment is delayed until after the birth. If you are pregnant, or trying to get pregnant, then tell the doctor. They can then choose a treatment that will not be harmful to your unborn baby. The risk of passing genital wart virus to your baby during pregnancy or child-birth is very small.

How do I tell my partner that I have genital warts?

It is strongly recommended that you tell your partner(s) but nobody can force you. Some people can feel upset and angry, frightened or embarrassed but it is important to discuss and talk about sexual problems. Your partner will only know that they have HPV infection if they have visible warts. The Sandyford clinics are there to help you - just ask us.

What is the best way to prevent infection?

Always use a condom to reduce the chance of spreading genital wart virus infection. HPV cannot pass through a condom. HPV can spread from skin that is not covered by a condom, so spread of the virus is still possible. If there are visible warts not covered by a condom, it is best to avoid sex until they have been cleared up by treatment.

You can get free condoms at  Sandyford clinics and some other venues through out Glasgow and Clyde.