Written on October 19, 2023 by Lori Mulligan, MPH. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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Prior to human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines, genital warts caused by HPV affected roughly 340,000 to 360,000 people yearly. These figures only look at the number of people who sought treatment for genital warts. This could be less than the actual number of people who get them.
About one in 100 sexually active adults in the United States has genital warts at any given time.
Genital warts are small, flat, flesh-colored bumps or tiny, cauliflower-like bumps.
Genital warts are caused by HPV. The most common way to get HPV is by having oral, vaginal, or anal sex with someone who is infected with HPV.
There are many kinds of HPV. Not all of them cause genital warts. HPV is associated with cancer of the cervix, vulva, anus, and penis. However, it’s important to note that HPV infection doesn’t always lead to cancer and that genital warts are not cancer.
Just because you can’t see warts on your partner doesn’t mean they don’t have HPV. The infection can have a long incubation period. This means that months can pass between the time a person is infected with the virus and the time a person notices genital warts. Sometimes, the warts can take years to develop. In women, the warts may be where you can’t see them, such as inside the body on the surface of the cervix.
Genital warts are very contagious. About two in every three people who have sex with someone infected with genital warts will catch the virus. If you have HPV but no symptoms, you can still transmit it to someone else. Most people who have HPV don't have warts, so they don't know they are infected.
If you have had one type of HPV, you could still be infected by other types.
Some people develop genital warts within weeks of sexual contact with someone with HPV. However, it can take months or years for warts to appear. For this reason, it can be difficult to pinpoint when you were exposed to genital warts.
It’s also possible to have the virus and not get genital warts. You might not know if you have warts inside your anus or inside your vagina. If you don’t have symptoms, you may unknowingly infect others.
Some genital warts clear without treatment. But there are benefits to removing warts, such as :
If you have itching, burning, and pain, or if you're concerned about spreading the infection, medication or surgery can help you clear an outbreak. However, warts often return after treatment. There is no treatment for the virus itself.
Genital wart treatments that can be applied directly to your skin include:
Don't use over-the-counter wart removers to treat genital warts. These medications aren't intended for use in the genital area.
You might need surgery to remove larger warts, warts that don't respond to medications, or, if you're pregnant, warts that your baby can be exposed to during delivery. Surgical options include :
To reduce your risk of getting genital warts you should use a condom for vaginal, anal, and oral sex. You can get warts even if you use condoms, as a condom does not cover the whole genital area. Getting the HPV vaccination will reduce your risk of getting the HPV virus.
Genital warts can be treated, but they can’t be cured. You’re removing the warts, but you’ll still have the HPV that causes them. The HPV may go away at some point on its own, but there’s no way to know for sure. Some people will get warts again, and others won’t.
Everlywell provides a home-collection, female HPV test. Your results will tell you whether or not you test positive for high-risk genotypes of HPV. If your results are positive, you’ll have the opportunity to connect with our independent physician network at no additional cost to discuss your particular case.
Everlywell also offers online STI consults in 2 hours or less. If you think you have been infected with HPV, fast and discreet care is just a click away. Get treatment and have a prescription sent directly to your pharmacy (if applicable).