Genital Warts and HPV

Jonathan Trager, M.D.

Whenever I diagnose genital warts in a teenager it's always a huge deal.  Tears, sometimes devastation, and about a million questions usually follow.

Girls and guys want to know:

"Exactly what are genital warts?"

"How did I get them? We always use a condom!"

"But my partner didn't have any warts -- so where did they come from?"

"Can you get them any other way besides from sex"

"How well does treatment work?"

"Will the warts ever go away for good?"

"Isn't this going to totally screw up my sex life?"

"What about oral sex? Can we still do it?"

"Am I going to infect someone else?"

"Will I ever be normal again?"

And girls want to know:

"Does this mean I can't have children?"

"Am I going to get cancer?"

These are real questions from real patients. As you learn the answers, remember one fact and some good news:

·         Fact -- Genital warts (known as condyloma acuminata) are the most common viral sexually transmitted disease in this country.

·         Good news about genital warts -- You can lower your chances of getting them, having them doesn't mean your sex life or reproductive life is over, and good treatments are available.

What Exactly Are Genital Warts?
Genital warts are just that -- warts that you get in the genital area. They are caused by human papilloma virus, or HPV for short.

An easy way to think about genital warts is to compare them to common warts (hand warts) or plantar warts (foot warts). You first get those kind of warts by contact with HPV on someone else's skin or on an inanimate (non-living) object. The virus then infects your skin and causes the bumps you see as warts.

Genital warts come about the same way but are spread mainly through sexual contact. If you have genital skin-to-skin contact with an infected partner, then the virus can work its way into your genital skin and presto, you are now infected and may develop genital warts.

HPV loves areas of skin trauma and friction. Since there's lots of friction going on during sexual contact, it's easy to see why HPV readily spreads down there.

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