Genital warts and human papilloma virus (HPV)

What is it?

Genital warts (sometimes called anogenital warts) are caused by a virus known as the human papilloma virus (HPV). There are many different types of HPV, but types 6 and 11 are the common causes of genital warts. Warts may sometimes disappear on their own without treatment but often persist for months or even years. Warts may sometimes reappear after they seem to have gone on their own or after treatment.

Because of changes in the body’s immune system during pregnancy, warts may appear for the first time during pregnancy. During pregnancy, genital warts can be treated with cryotherapy (freezing). Having genital warts very rarely affects the baby during birth. Pregnant women with warts should be reassured that there is very little risk to their baby. If you are pregnant you should tell your doctor or nurse.

Some of the HPV types can cause cancer if not treated effectively. Cancer of the cervix (neck of the womb), vulva, vagina, anus, penis and throat have been linked to HPV types 16 and 18. (These are not the common types of HPV.) It is therefore important for women with genital warts who are aged 25 to 64 years to make sure their cervical smear is up-to-date by checking with their GP.

Cervical smear tests

How do I catch it?

The human papilloma virus is easily passed from one person to another through skin-to-skin genital contact. This doesn’t need to be penetrative sex (vaginal, anal or oral sex), but could be close genital contact.

It is not possible to catch HPV from kissing, hugging, sharing towels, swimming pools, toilets or sharing cups, plates or cutlery.

Symptoms

Most people who get HPV do not show any signs or symptoms (they do not get any warts), and the virus can go away by itself. This means you might not know if you or your partner has the virus.

If you do get warts you might notice fleshy growths, bumps, or skin changes which may appear anywhere in the genital or anal area.

Warts can appear from three weeks to a few months, or even years, after getting the virus.

Testing

There is no routine test available for HPV. Genital warts can be diagnosed in the clinic by the doctor or nurse looking at your skin.

Treatment

The most common treatment for genital warts is a cream or lotion that you put on the warts a few times a week at home. These treatments may take weeks or months to work. Other options include cryotherapy (freezing), electrocautery (heat), surgery or laser.

Once the warts have gone, there is a chance they may come back.

There is now a vaccine which protects against getting the main types of HPV. This is now being given to all girls aged 12 – 13, and there is a catch-up program for all girls up to the age of 18. We don't currently provide HPV vaccination in Umbrella clinics.

All Umbrella clinics provide treatment for STIs. To find clinics, and to see which services they offer, please see the service locator.

Find clinics and pharmacies

If you are diagnosed with genital warts, you should also advise your partner(s) to come to an Umbrella clinic for a sexual health check-up.

Worried about genital warts?

How to avoid STIs

See the FPA website for a range of downloadable leaflets on contraception and sexually transmitted infections.

View FPA leaflets

The British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) website also features a range of downloadable leaflets on STIs.

View BASHH leaflets