Genital warts

Genital warts, also known as condylomas, are one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases. They are caused by an infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV). There are many different types of HPV. Most are harmless, but a few can lead to cervical cancer (HPV 16 and HPV 18). That is why it is recommended that adolescents (11 years and older) are inoculated with a HPV vaccine before they become sexually active.

Genital warts (condylomas) are one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases. A human papilloma virus infection is nearly always caused by unprotected sex. It is estimated that around one to two per cent of the sexually active population are affected by genital warts and around 14% carry the highly infectious virus without experiencing any symptoms. There are around 90 types of HPV virus and most are harmless. Around 50 types of the virus can cause the development of genital warts. But often a HPV virus infection exhibits no symptoms and goes completely unnoticed. In contrast, an infection with types 16 and 18 can promote the development of cervical cancer. That is why in the last few years vaccines have been produced to help prevent these two types of HPV and the other most common types of the virus (type 6 and type 11).

The HPV viruses are usually transmitted through unprotected sex or sexual contact. Pregnant women can infect their baby with the virus during childbirth. The genital warts can develop around two to four weeks after the infection. But often the warts may take months to appear. They are reddish brown or white nodules, about the size of a pin head. They may grow together over time and form cauliflower-like warts. Genital warts primarily develop around the anus, the labia, the vaginal opening and on the shaft or end of the penis.

An external examination of the symptoms is usually sufficient to diagnose genital warts. Sometimes a colposcopy or a colonoscopy is carried out to assess how far the genital warts have spread. A tissue sample taken under local anaesthetic makes it possible to identify which type of HPV virus is causing the warts.

There are various medical lotions and ointments available for treating genital warts. If they are not effective, the warts can be frozen with liquid nitrogen or removed using electrotherapy or laser therapy. However, the warts tend to regenerate and there is a high risk that they will return.

Vaccines have been available for several years now, so preventative vaccination is recommended for all adolescents (11 years and older) before they become sexually active.