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 papillomavirus (HPV). There are many different types of HPV. Most of them are harmless. However, some may lead to cervical cancer (HPV 16 and HPV 18). That is why it is recommended that adolescents (11 years and older) are inoculated with an HPV vaccine before becoming sexually active.

What are genital warts?

Genital warts (condylomas) are one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases. They are triggered through infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV). 

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 and most are harmless. Around 50 types of the virus can cause the development of genital warts.

But often an HPV infection exhibits no symptoms and goes completely unnoticed. In contrast, HPV infection with types 16 and 18 can promote the development of cervical cancer. That is why vaccines have been produced in the last few years to help prevent these two types of HPV and the other most common types of the virus (type 6 and type 11).

How are genital warts transmitted?

Infection with the HPV virus is usually the result of unprotected sex or sexual contact. Pregnant women can infect their baby with the virus during childbirth. 

Symptoms

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 pinhead. They may grow together over time and form cauliflower-like warts.

Genital warts primarily develop around the anus, in the genital area, on the labia, the vaginal opening and in men, on the shaft or end of the penis.

Diagnosis

An external examination of genital warts is usually sufficient to diagnose an HPV infection. Sometimes a vaginal endoscopy or 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.

Treatment of genital warts

There are various medical lotions and ointments available for treatment. 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.

Can genital warts be prevented?

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.