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Genital warts

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 2 minutes read

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

Genital warts are sexually transmitted infections 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 within a few months, but they can become irritated and sore if they rub or catch on clothing, and some people are bothered by their appearance. You also put your partner or partners at risk of contracting them if left untreated.

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

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 any sexual partner.

Genital warts are contagious via any type of sex (vaginal, anal, or oral) and sharing of sex toys and can pass from warts elsewhere, such as on the fingers, to the 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 warts symptoms. Wearing condoms can reduce the risk, but do not eliminate it completely.

A new vaccine (Gardasil) has been introduced to protect against HPV before most people become sexually active. Girls and boys aged 11 to 12 are offered it, and it involves 2 shots 6 to 12 months apart.

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. Book a routine appointment if you are well, and your symptoms are manageable.

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

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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