Genital warts are a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). There are over 100 different types of HPV that affect the skin on various parts of the body. Of these, over 40 types affect the genital area. HPV is very common, so most sexually active men and women are likely to have been exposed.

What are the symptoms?

Most people that are infected with HPV do not have any obvious symptoms. Only a small number develop visible warts, usually two to three months after infection but the warts can appear between three weeks and many years later. Genital warts can appear on the inside or outside of the vagina, on the cervix (neck of the womb), the penis, scrotum and the anus. They are usually painless. The warts may look like white flat patches or may be bumpy, like cauliflower.

How are genital warts spread?

The virus that causes genital warts is spread through direct skin-to-skin contact, during sexual touching and unprotected vaginal, oral, or anal sex with someone who has HPV. As there are often no signs of genital warts the virus can be spread to others without knowing it.

How are genital warts diagnosed?

Genital warts can be diagnosed by your health-care provider based on your medical history and a physical examination. If warts are suspected inside the penis, vagina or cervix, additional tests can be arranged. If you have genital warts, you may be tested for other sexually transmitted infections.

Who is at risk of genital warts infection?

You are more likely to get genital warts if you:

  • Have sex or intimate skin-to skin contact with someone who has genital warts;
  • Don’t use condoms or dental dams every time you have sex (vaginal, oral, or anal);
  • Have more than one sex partner or your partner has had multiple sex partners;
  • Start sexual activity at an early age;
  • Have a weakened immune system that makes it hard for your body to fight off infection

How can you prevent getting genital warts?

Condoms can reduce some of the risk of getting HPV and genital warts but they will not always cover the infected area as the virus can be anywhere on the genital or anal area. Use of dental dams during oral sex can reduce the risk of HPV infection.

Find out more on how to prevent genital warts and other sexually transmitted infections. HPV vaccines can help protect against some of the types of HPV that cause cervical and other cancers, and genital warts.  

How are genital warts treated?

Speak with your health-care provider about whether or not your genital warts should be treated and which would be the best treatment for you. Treatments for genital warts can include prescription creams or liquids that are applied directly to the warts, freezing, laser or surgery. Treatment is usually effective, but you may need a number of treatments and warts can come back even after they look like they have completely gone. If you are pregnant or think you might be, tell your health-care provider, so you can use a treatment that won’t be harmful to you or your baby.

Important: Do not use non-prescription wart removal products to treat genital warts. These products are not intended to be used in the genital area and may cause serious burning.