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Genital warts

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger HendersonReviewed on 29.04.2024 | 3 minutes read

Warts are small fleshy growths or bumps with a hardened dry top, most often flesh-coloured, but can appear red if irritated. Several can appear in a cluster.

Genital warts are a sexually transmitted infection caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and spread by vaginal, anal, digital and oral sex or sharing sex toys. They are not harmful, and can disappear by themselves within a few months, but they become irritated and sore if they rub or catch on clothing, and some people are bothered by the appearance. You also put your partner or partners at risk of catching them if they are left untreated.

They may not cause you any bother, or you may be bothered by the appearance, and this can take its toll on your confidence and, inevitably, intimate relationships. Depending on their size or location, they may catch on clothes, or feel a bit sore, and they can sometimes itch or bleed.

Doctor’s advice

Is it contagious?

Genital warts are contagious and should be treated to avoid spreading in the same area, to different areas, or to any sexual partner.

Genital warts are contagious via any types of sex (vaginal, anal or oral) and sharing sex toys, and can pass from warts elsewhere, such as on the fingers, to genitals. You can't catch it from sharing towels or clothes, but you can pass on HPV, the virus causing warts, before you have any symptoms of warts. Wearing condoms can reduce the risk, but do not make it zero.

A new vaccine has been introduced to protect against HPV before most people will become sexually active. Girls aged 12 to 13 in the UK are offered it within their cervical cancer vaccine, and it involves 2 shots 6 to 12 months apart. Boys of the same age are offered it only in England. (It's important to note that the type of HPV linked to genital warts has nothing to do with a risk of cancer.)

The vaccine, called Gardasil or Cervarix, is also offered to men who have sex with men and those who identify as trans men and women, if they missed out on having it at school.

Healthwords pharmacists' top tips

Warts and treating them are your doctor's domain, so best to speak to your doctor or sexual health doctor to get some advice on treatments that aren't available over-the-counter.

Am I fit for work?

You are fit for work with genital warts.

When should I see my doctor?

See your doctor or a sexual health clinic to confirm you have genital warts so that you can start appropriate treatment. If you are well, and your symptoms are manageable, book a routine appointment.

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and, if you are comfortable, examine you. If genital warts are diagnosed your doctor will recommend either topical treatments or freezing therapy. It is important that genital warts are treated to stop them from spreading.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 29.04.2024
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