Appearing as a kind of lesion that is flesh colored and feels like soft bumps, according to medical practitioners, genital warts are caused by certain strains of Human PapillomaVirus (HPV). Unknown to many sexually active people, HPV remains the most prevalent sexually transmitted infection.
While condom use may decrease the risk of HPV transmission during sexual activity it does not completely prevent HPV infection. Although not as serious as other sexually transmitted diseases, genital warts are especially dangerous for women because some types of the HPV can cause cancer of the cervix and vulva.
Typically found in the areas around the penis, anus, scrotum, vagina or vulva, they are difficult to diagnose as they hardly cause pain and are extremely small.
Genital warts and HPV infection are transmitted primarily by sexual intimacy and the risk of infection increases as the number of sexual partner's increases.
According to studies, there are more than 100 types of HPV that specifically affect the genitals. Of these, more than 40 types can infect the genital tract and anus (anogenital tract) of men and women causing genital lesions known as condylomata acuminata or venereal warts.
A subgroup of the HPVs that infect the anogenital tract can lead to precancerous changes in the uterine cervix and cervical cancer. HPV infection is also associated with the development of other anogenital cancers. The HPV types that cause cervical cancer have also been linked with both anal and penile cancer in men as well as a subgroup of head and neck cancers in both women and men.
The most common HPV types that infect the anogenital tract are HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18 (HPV-6, HPV-11, HPV-16, and HPV-18). Although other HPV types can also cause infection. Among these, HPV-6 and HPV-11 are most commonly associated with benign lesions such as genital warts are termed as ‘low-risk’ HPV types. In contrast, HPV-16 and HPV-18 are the types found most commonly in cervical and anogenital cancers as well as severe dysplasia of the cervix. These belong to the so-called ‘high-risk’ group of HPVs. Other HPV types infect the skin and cause common warts elsewhere on the body. Some types of HPVs such as HPV 5 and 8, frequently cause skin cancers in people who have a condition known as epidermodysplasia verruciformis (EV).
These fleshy bumps that have a corrugated cauliflower like appearance in many cases do not cause any symptoms and sometimes go unnoticed due to their varying size.
They are associated with itching, burning, vaginal discharge, bleeding or tenderness. If they become enlarged they can be very uncomfortable and even painful.
It is also worth noting that genital warts may also appear on the lips, mouth, tongue or throat of a person who has had oral sexual contact with an infected person.
Good news is, the genital warts often go away with time but the bad news is, there is no treatment that can eradicate HPV infection. To relieve painful symptoms or minimize their size, your doctor can prescribe any of the following over the counter medication. Imiquimod (Aldara), podophyllin and podofilox (Condylox) and trichloroacetic acid (TCA). If visible warts do not go away with time surgery may be the next best option to remove them. This can be done through electrocautery or burning warts with electric currents, cryosurgery or freezing warts, laser treatments, excision or cutting off warts or through an interferon injection.
The sure way to avoid contracting genital warts is through abstinence. Another way although controversial due to the negative side effects and ingredients used in making it, a vaccine by the name Gardasil is available against common HPV types associated with the development of genital warts, cervical and anogenital carcinomas.