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What are genital warts?

Genital warts are one of the most common STIs and are skin growths on the genital area caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).

How do you get genital warts?

The HPV virus is passed through skin to skin contact, including oral and anal sex.  HPV may be passed on even when there are no visible warts to be seen

How will I know I have genital warts? The warts are small pinkish/white cauliflower like lumps and can appear singly or in small groups.  Warts can appear weeks, months or sometimes years after infection with HPV.  Some people carry the virus and never develop any visible warts.

How do I test for genital warts?

There isn’t a test for genital warts, they are diagnosed by what can be seen by a nurse or doctor during an examination of your genital area.

How are genital warts treated?

Treatment for genital warts depends on the type of warts you have and where they are located.  You do not need treatment if there are no visible warts.

Treatment may involve a cream or solution that you use at home, or a freezing spray which is carried out by a nurse or doctor in the clinic. Treatment may take several weeks to remove the visible warts but they cannot remove the virus completely from the skin.

If left untreated, genital warts may disappear on their own.

DO NOT use wart removal preparations that you can buy from the pharmacy as these are not suitable for genital skin.

Stopping smoking has been shown to improve the clearance of visible warts.

How do I protect myself from genital warts?

Using condoms can help reduce the risk of passing on genital warts and HPV although they cannot completely prevent it.

All men who have sex with men (MSM), 45 and under, can get the new HPV vaccine for free at the Steve Retson Clinic and at Sandyford. Men who have sex with men (MSM) are much more likely than others to develop abnormal cell changes and cancer linked to some strains of the HPV virus, and it is even more likely for HIV-positive men. The vaccine protects against cancers caused by the Human Papilloma Virus and will be offered to all eligible men attending sexual health services as part of their regular sexual health check up.

The SRP website has more information for MSM on genital warts.

Do I need to tell my partner or anyone else I’ve had sex with that I have genital warts?

Sexual partners can only know you carry HPV if there are visible warts. If HPV is present on the genital skin transmission can occur with or without a condom.  If there are visible warts not covered by a condom then it is best to avoid sex until the warts have cleared.

Genital warts and pregnancy

Some women find that genital warts can appear for the first time during pregnancy. Some treatments are unsuitable during pregnancy and treatment may be delayed until after your baby is born. If you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant then let your nurse or doctor know so that they can choose a suitable treatment. Often, within 6 weeks of delivery, warts will become smaller and usually disappear.