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Genital Warts

Prevention & Treatment

Monday, Aug. 27, 2007; 7:45 PM

Copyright Harvard Health Publications 2007

Prevention

Table of Contents

The best way to prevent genital warts is to avoid sex or have sex with only one uninfected partner. Using condoms also may help to prevent infection. However, condoms can't always cover all affected skin. Factors that increase your risk of becoming infected include:

  • Having other STDs

  • Multiple sex partners

  • Smoking

  • Certain vitamin deficiencies

  • Medications or medical conditions that suppress the immune system, such as AIDS

If you have had genital warts, you should be tested for cervical cancer at least once every year. Cervical cancer can be prevented with regular Pap smears, and can be cured in most cases when it is detected in early stages.

Treatment

Treatment depends on the size and location of the warts. Even though the warts may be removed, the viral infection can't be cured, which is why the warts often return. Some of the medications used to treat genital warts cannot be used during pregnancy, so it's important to tell your doctor if you could be pregnant.

Small warts may be treated with medications applied to the skin. In some cases, applying liquid nitrogen (cryotherapy) to warts will freeze the tissue and make warts disappear. Some larger warts require laser treatment, or surgical removal. Do not treat genital warts yourself with nonprescription drugs used for wart removal on hands, because these chemicals can make the genital area very sore. Your doctor may prescribe a medication that you can apply to the warts at home. Apply this medication carefully to avoid damaging surrounding healthy tissue, keep it out of your eyes and wash it off after four hours. Your doctor also may suggest that you apply a protective coating of petroleum jelly on delicate surrounding tissue before you apply your prescribed medication.

In some cases, your doctor may use a small needle to inject alpha-interferon into each wart. Alpha-interferon injections are usually considered only if other treatment methods are unsuccessful or if warts come back after being removed.

You will be told to avoid sexual relations until treatment is completed.

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