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Genital Warts Viruses

What are the Genital Wart Viruses caused by HPV?

HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) is a family of over 200 viruses that infect both humans and other species. However, only some of the viruses are considered sexually transmitted. HPV often has no symptoms and transmits easily. Because people often pass the virus to their partners without realizing they have it, HPV has become one of the most common STDs worldwide.

Genital warts caused by HPV are most often associated with HPV types 6 and 11. These are considered low risk viruses and may also lead to anal, nasal, oral and laryngeal warts. High Risk types of HPV can cause cancer or pre-cancerous changes, but do not cause warts.

Warts may not be visible to the naked eye. When they are, they’re usually flat, papular or pedunculate growths. If left untreated, they may grow in clusters, forming a cauliflower like shape. Genital warts are usually asymptomatic, but depending on the size and anatomic location, they can also be painful or itchy.   

Key facts about HPV and genital warts:

  • Most sexually active adults will get HPV at some point in their lives
  • Roughly 3 million people are diagnosed with genital warts in the U.S. each year
  • In an ongoing sexual relationship, both partners are usually infected with the same HPV virus(es)
  • There is no cure for HPV, but the warts can be treated very easily
  • While proper condom use can reduce the chances of spreading genital HPV, it does not eliminate the risk
  • Individuals can be positive for more than one type of HPV, including both low risk and high risk types
What should a woman know about genital warts?

Genital warts appear as skin-colored or pink growths most commonly seen on the opening of the vagina, the cervix or around the anus. Genital Warts are more common in women than in men.

After you’ve been exposed to HPV, it may take several months for warts appear, if at all. Most women with warts do not have any symptoms at all, but in some cases, there may be itching, burning or tenderness in the genital area.

Although HPV types 6 and 11 will not cause pre-cancerous changes or cancer, it is still important to determine if multiple types of HPV are present.

What should a man know about genital warts?

Genital warts appear as skin-colored or pink growths most commonly seen on the shaft of a circumcised penis, under the foreskin of an uncircumcised penis or on the scrotum.  

After you’ve been exposed to HPV, it may take several months for warts to appear, if at all. Most men with warts do not have any symptoms at all, but in some cases, there may be itching, burning or tenderness.

What should a woman or man know about anal warts?

Anal warts caused by HPV are often referred to as “condylomas.” While found predominantly in people who have had receptive anal intercourse, they can also occur in men and women who do not have a history of anal sexual contact.

Many patients with anal warts have no symptoms. Some patients may notice small growths in the anal area or may experience itching, occasional bleeding or moisture in the anal canal.

Although HPV types 6 and 11 will not cause pre-cancerous changes or cancer, it is still important to determine if multiple types of HPV are present.

What should you do if your test is positive?

Infection with HPV types 6 and/or 11 is extremely common. However, it is important that you see a physician or health care provider. Although there is no cure for HPV, there is treatment for the warts that are caused by HPV. 

If you have visible genital warts, you should inform all current sexual partners and abstain from sexual activity until the warts are gone or removed. Keep in mind, recurrence of genital warts is common, especially in the first three months.

What should you do if your test is negative?

If the specimen that you provided to SelfCollect tests negative for HPV, it is likely that you are not currently infected with HPV types 6 or 11. However, continual sexual exposure makes periodic or frequent testing an important part of your health maintenance. It is also important to realize that, although rare, it is possible for tests to be negative because of sampling error or other technical complexities.  

Though you are negative for HPV today, your status may change with new sexual partners or other physical experiences. HPV is also a virus that can sit “dormant” in your body and remain undetectable. We don’t know why, but these viruses occasionally begin replicating again and become detectable.  

If the same virus is present over time and remains detectable and persistent, then it is important to give serious consideration to seeing a physician or health care provider. If you are sexually active, you may greatly benefit from regular HPV testing.

I’ve received the HPV Vaccine (Gardasil or Cervarix), can I still get Genital Warts caused by HPV 6 or 11?

Unfortunately, yes. While the Gardasil vaccine does protect you against HPV types 6 and 11, Cervarix does not.  

You must receive all of the doses of the vaccine to be fully protected and to develop a robust immune response to the viruses. If you received the vaccine after already having been exposed to one of these viruses, studies have suggested that protection is either lessened or non-existent. Consequently, the vaccine is not a cure for a pre-existing HPV infection and it is recommended those vaccinated follow the same screening guidelines as those that are unvaccinated.

In the US, the vaccine continues to be strongly encouraged for females age 9 - 26 years old and males 9 - 21 years old.

Would you still like more information?

To speak with a trained STD counselor, contact the CDC National Hotline at:

  • Phone: (800) 232-4636 (24 hours - English & Spanish)
  • Email: cdcinfo@cdc.gov

 

 

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