Genital warts is one of the two most commonly spread sexually transmitted diseases (STD) caused by a virus. The other is genital herpes. The disease is caused by the human papilloma virus often abbreviated as hpv.

The wart like lesions that appear with this STD are called condyloma acuminate. They look like small, flesh colored growths in the genital and anal region. Research indicates that 10-40% of women who are sexually active are infected with hpv. Both men and women can transmit and receive the virus and the presence of the hpv is not always accompanied by the appearance of genital warts.

Routes of Transmission

Genital warts are spread through direct contact with an infected person during vaginal, anal, or oral sexual contact. Approximately sixty percent of people who have sexual contact with someone who has genital warts will develop symptoms themselves, usually within three months of the encounter.

The human papilloma virus penetrates through tiny abrasions in the genital area that occur during sexual activity. Once the virus is in the body it become latent or inactive for several weeks, months, or sometimes even years. Typically it takes about three months for the first symptoms to appear, but it could take much longer or much less time.

Penetrating sex is not necessary for the spread of hpv. Studies have proven that sexual contact of any kind with an infected person can spread the virus. An infected person is able to spread the virus to a non-infected partner even when there is no outward or visible signs of genital warts.

In rare cases, adults or children may be infected indirectly. For example, using an infected person's towel can cause an infection if rubbed against the genitals. Also, babies may be infected through a vaginal delivery of a mother with genital warts.

HPV, the cause of Genital Warts

There are more than 100 different types of the human papilloma virus, and over 40 of these can infect the genitals through sexual contact. These specific strains of HPV are highly contagious. Because of the long incubation period, many people may be unaware that they are infected and continue to spread the virus through sexual contact.

Genital Warts Symptoms

The most common genital warts symptoms are the appearance of the warts themselves. Generally they are painless but might cause irritation and itching depending on their size and location. It is not uncommon to develop the warts in more than one area.

In men specifically, genital warts can infect the urethra, scrotum, penis, and rectal areas. The warts will appear as soft, smooth, raised masses when on the penile shaft. Or, they can appear as anal warts, in which the growth is rough and protruding. The lesions will be raised, and only rarely will they appear flat with just a slight elevation above the skin.

In women, genital warts symptoms may not be noticeable if the warts are located inside the vagina where they are undetectable. However, the lesions most commonly occur in the labia minora and around the vaginal opening. Many times no symptoms at all are experienced aside from the appearance of growths (warts). In rare cases, women may experience bleeding following sexual intercourse when infected with hpv.

Genital Warts Treatment

As is the case with most viruses, there is no genital warts treatment that will completely get rid of the lesions or the hpv. The warts can be controlled, but the viral infection cannot be not cured. Prescription medications and topical creams are the most frequently used methods of treatment.

Small warts can be removed by means of laser surgery, cryosurgery (freezing), or electrocautery (burning). Application of various acids and resins may also be used. These genital wart treatments require several sessions and removal is not a permanent solution since it cannot prevent spreading of the human papilloma virus. It genital warts are removed by any of these methods more lesions can still occur in the future.

Complications

The main complications of HPV infection are the development of cancerous lesions. Some forms of HPV can cause anal and/or penis cancer in men, and cervical cancer in women.

Prevention

Research is currently being conducted on vaccines that may protect against infection of HPV infection and one vaccine (Gardisil) is now available for women. This vaccine protects aginst some of the strains of HPV that cause cervical cancer but cannot treat genital warts or cervical cancer once they have developed.

The only sure way to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, genital warts included, is to avoid direct contact with the causative organism, in this case the human papilloma virus.

For most STDs the use of a condom creates the barrier necessary to prevent the transmission of the pathogen. However, this appears not to be the case for genital warts as the virus can infect areas not covered by the condom. The Center for Disease Control advises that the only sure way to prevent HPV is to avoid all sexual activity.

Restricting sexual activity to a monogamous relationship with a person confirmed to be "hpv free" would be advisable.

Author's Bio: 

Beverly Hansen OMalley is a nurse who is passionate about about health promotion. She likes to write about topics that help people in their every day life and she loves to organize anything. You are invited to visit organization-makes-sense.com where she has information on how organization works so you can make it work in your own life.

You might also be interested in visiting registered-nurse-canada.com where Bev explores the uniqueness of the nursing profession in Canada.