What are genital warts?
Genital warts are warts (raised bumps kind of thing) that form near the genitals. Near penis, groin, scrotum, anus in men and around vagina, vulva, anus in women. Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infection causes genital warts. There are several strains of HPV (around 100) out of which some are not really bothersome while some (40 types) cause genital warts. There are few strains of HPV that can cause cervical cancer and cancer of the vulva in women. Sometimes, HPV can cause genital lesions known as ‘Condylomata Acuminata or Venereal Warts’. HPV infection may not show any symptoms for weeks or even months after infection. However, the virus will be present in the body if the immune system is not able to identify it and fight it off. Later on, symptoms can show up as genital warts and then you may test positive for HPV (if you were not tested for HPV earlier).
Symptoms of Genital Warts
- Growth of flesh coloured bumps called warts around the genitalia.
- They may look very small or big resembling the shape of cauliflower around penis, vulva or anus.
- Some women with warts can feel itching, burning and tenderness in the warts region.
- They may grow around vulva, vagina, cervix (inside the vagina) or groin in women and around penis, on the scrotum, thighs and in the groin area for men.
- Women with genital warts in the cervix region may experience bleeding (after sexual intercourse), vaginal discharge etc.
What is ‘incubation period’ of a viral infection?
Any viral infection doesn’t show up any symptoms in the body immediately after it infects. For some people it may take few days, for some it may take weeks or months or even years for any symptom to show up. Some people, though infected, may not show any symptom at all. But, the time period between infection and sign of first symptom is called as ‘incubation period’. This is the time when the virus keeps multiplying inside the body. Usually, body shows up symptom(s) when it detects that it has been infected/invaded by a foreign pathogen and causing harm to the body and starts fighting it.
How genital warts (HPV Infection) are transmitted?
- HPV is transmitted through skin to skin contact. Usually, sexually active people between the ages of 15 to 25 are at higher risk of getting infected with HPV.
- HPV is transmitted through vaginal, anal or oral sex with an infected person.
- HPV is also transmitted even without sexual contact. When the broken skin of the infected individual comes into contact with a cut or wound of a healthy individual, exchange of bodily fluids can take place, transmitting the virus.
Can HPV infection cause any complications?
HPV in women can cause complications such as cancer of the cervix. It can also lead to the growth of pre-cancerous cells in the cervix called ‘Cervical Dysplasia’. Some strains of HPV can cause cancer of the vulva. HPV in men can cause cancer of penis (or penile cancer) or anal cancer.
Diagnosis of Genital Warts
Generally you will see a doctor, a gynecologist or a female sexologist when you start noticing symptoms. Your gynecologist starts with questions on your recent and past sexual encounters and then performs a physical examination to take a closer look at the warts.
Diagnosis of Genital Warts in women:
Genital Warts in women can develop even on the cervix, so, a physical examination of the pelvis region will be performed by your gynecologist. A mild acidic solution may be applied to get better visibility of the warts. A pap smear test may be performed by collecting the cells from the cervix region.
The pap smear test may also indicate the presence of pre-cancerous cells and in such cases, you will be required to see your gynecologist more regularly to screen for the growth of these cells. If your doctor thinks that you may be at risk of developing cervical cancer, he/she may suggest you go for the DNA test in which the type of HPV strain will be determined. This can rule out or indicate any possibility of cervical cancer in women.
How are genital warts treated?
Remember, there is no home remedy for genital warts nor there are any foods that you can eat to treat genital warts. Genital warts usually go away with time for many people but the HPV infection can still exist in your body. This means that you can expect multiple episodes of genital warts during your lifetime if your body is not able to get rid of the infection by itself. It is always best to follow your gynecologist’s prescription to alleviate the symptoms of warts and get rid of them.
If the warts don’t go away even after using medication, surgical procedures may have to be employed. Surgical procedures to remove genital warts include:
- Electrocautery or burning off the warts with electric current.
- Cryosurgery or Freezing the warts (and they fall off)
- Laser treatment is an advanced procedure to remove genital warts.
- Excision or cutting off warts
- Even when your warts subside and you feel completely normal, you can still transmit HPV to healthy individuals. Always use protection when having sexual intercourse as a responsible individual.
- Continue to be in touch with your gynecologist whenever the warts return.
- If you are a woman, you need to be screening for cervical cancer symptoms if the detected DNA of HPV is among the cancer causing types.