Genital warts, sometimes called venereal warts, are growths or
bumps contracted through sexual contact. They're caused by
certain types of the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is one of
the most common
sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
In females, genital warts appear in and around the vagina or anus
or on the cervix. In males, they appear on the penis, scrotum,
groin, or thigh. Genital warts can be raised or flat, small or
large. Sometimes they're clustered together in a
cauliflower-like shape. Most of the time, they're flesh-colored
and painless. Sometimes, the warts are so small and flat that they
may not be noticed right away.
It may take several months or years after infection for symptoms
to appear - if there are symptoms at all.
In females, the virus can lead to changes in the cervix that may
lead to cancer, so it's important that it is diagnosed and
treated as soon as possible. Males infected with HPV can also be at
risk for cancer of the penis and the anus.
Genital warts are transmitted through sexual contact (anal, oral,
and vaginal) with an infected person, and warts can appear within
several weeks or months afterwards.
The virus is passed through skin-to-skin contact, but not
everyone who's been exposed to the virus will develop genital
A vaccine for females 9 to 26 years old is approved to prevent
HPV infection, which causes most cervical cancers and genital
warts. The vaccine, called Gardasil, is given as three injections
over a 6-month period. It doesn't protect females who've
already been infected with HPV, and doesn't protect against all
types of HPV, so be sure your daughter gets routine checkups and
gynecologic exams. If you have questions about the vaccine, talk
with your doctor.
Because genital warts are spread through sexual contact,
the best way to prevent them is to abstain from having sex. Sexual
contact with more than one partner or with someone who has more
than one partner increases the risk of contracting any STD.
When properly and consistently used,
decrease the risk of STDs. Latex condoms provide greater protection
than natural-membrane condoms. The female condom, made of
polyurethane, is also considered effective against STDs.
Using douche can actually increase a female's risk of
contracting STDs because it can change the natural flora of the
vagina and may flush bacteria higher into the genital tract.
A teen who is being treated for genital warts also should
be tested for other STDs, and should have time alone with the
doctor to openly discuss issues like sexual activity. Not all teens
will be comfortable talking with parents about these issues. But
it's important to encourage them to talk to a trusted adult who
can provide the facts.
Though there's no cure for an HPV infection, the genital
warts can be treated and removed with prescription medication or
other medical procedures, such as freezing or laser treatments.
Because the HPV remains dormant in the body, genital warts may
reappear at any time after treatment. Those who have had one
outbreak of genital warts still carry the virus and can infect
others. Someone who has had HPV can also get a new HPV infection
from another partner.
If your teen is thinking of becoming sexually active or already
has started having sex, it's important to talk with him or her
about it. Make sure your teen knows how STDs can be spread (during
anal, oral, or vaginal sex) and that these infections often
don't have symptoms, so a partner might have an STD without
It can be difficult to talk about STDs, but just as
with any other medical issue, teens need this information
to stay safe and healthy. Provide the facts, and let your child
know where you stand.
It's also important that all teens have regular full
physical exams - which can include screening for STDs. Your teen
may want to see a gynecologist or a specialist in adolescent
medicine to talk about sexual health issues. Community health
organizations and sexual counseling centers in your local area also
may be able to offer some guidance.
Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: August 2007
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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