Genital warts are a common sexually transmitted infection (STI). They are caused by HPV, or human papillomavirus. HPV is most easily transmitted through sexual contact. Those with weakened immune systems, who already have an STI, or who have sex with multiple partners are most at risk.
The warts are found around or on the genitals and appear as small growths that may range in color from grey to skin-colored to red. Genital warts can develop in the mouth and throat of an infected person through oral sexual contact. The warts are mildly painful in some cases and may bleed or itch. The warts might also take a long time to grow after infection, taking as much time as six months to become visible. Sometimes an infected person might not have visible growth but can still have HPV. Some strains of HPV may cause cervical cancer as well as cancer of the anus, penis, and mouth and throat.
Diagnosis of genital warts can be done from a visual inspection of the genital area. Mild acetic acid solution, or vinegar, can be used to make warts more visible. A Pap smear in females or DNA testing can also identify if HPV is present if no warts are visible. Vaccines are available for the strains of HPV that are most likely to cause cervical cancer for young women. Warts can be removed by a variety of methods including topical treatments and surgery. Use of a latex condom can help prevent the spread of HPV, although care should be taken as this protection does not cover the entire genital area. The best protection is to limit sexual contact to an uninfected partner or to abstain from sexual contact. If you have been diagnosed with genital warts, talk to your doctor about the most current treatment options. Support groups are available for more resources and information.