April 30, 2012
Genital warts are fleshy growths that can appear on and around the area of the genitals or anus. They result from infection by a virus known as the human papillomavirus (HPV), of which there are many strains.
Genital warts do not usually cause pain and are not associated with a serious threat to an individual’s health. However, they can look unsightly and can be a source of psychological distress.
The Transmission of Genital Warts
Genital warts are passed on during vaginal or anal sex and through the sharing of sex toys. However, an individual who has not had penetrative sex can be infected by HPV as HPV can be spread through skin-to-skin contact. HPV is likely to be passed on when genital warts are present. However, it is possible for an individual to pass on the virus before genital warts have appeared on the skin.
The genital warts incubation period can last as long as a year, meaning that an individual can be infected by the virus yet will not show symptoms for up to a year later.
The Prevalence of Genital Warts
Genital warts are most commonly seen in males aged between 20 to 24 and females aged between 16 and 19. The prevalence of genital warts is high. In England alone, genital warts are the second most common sexually transmitted infection. Between 2004 and 2008, in excess of 79,000 new genital warts cases were diagnosed in England.
The Diagnosis of Genital Warts
Individuals who may have developed genital warts must visit their local genito-urinary medicine (GUM) clinic. While a family doctor is able to diagnose the condition, professionals at a GUM clinic will be able to administer treatments for genital warts.
Genital warts are easily diagnosed. During a check-up, a doctor or nurse will use a magnifying lens to examine the warts found on the skin.
The Treatment of Genital Warts
The treatment for genital warts includes topical treatment, which takes the form of either a lotion or cream that is applied onto the affected area, and physical ablation, in which the infected tissue is destroyed using lasers. The effectiveness of treatment varies between individuals. Treatment is more effective in individuals who do not smoke in comparison to those who do.
Topical treatments have a tendency to work effectively on softer warts while physical ablation has a tendency to work effectively on harder warts. A combination of both topical treatment and physical ablation may be used. Neither treatment removes warts instantly, with treatment often taking several months to eliminate warts.
Preventing Genital Warts
Genital warts can be prevented by using male and female condoms. Condoms must be worn every time an individual has vaginal, oral or anal sex. Condoms do not offer complete protection from genital warts, however, as it is possible for the skin surrounding the genital area to become infected.
The Gardasil vaccine offers protection against the most common strains of the human papillomavirus that have been proven to cause genital warts. The vaccine is thought to be 99% effective at preventing the development of genital warts. However, an individual’s immunity to the strains of the virus that the vaccine protects against will begin to fall after six years and the vaccine is not considered a substitute for condom use.