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Genital warts are among the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the world. Though currently between 10 and 20% of the US population is affected, hundreds of thousands of new individuals are exposed to the disease each year. Thankfully, genital warts not dangerous nor are they life threatening, but they can make individuals much more susceptible to other STDs and may cause quite a bit of discomfort and embarrassment during outbreaks. Is there a cure for genital warts? Read Are Genital Warts Curable?
Most cases of genital warts are caused by the Human Papilloma Virus, known commonly as HPV. Though the virus is also responsible for a large number of cases of cervical cancer, the types of HPV that cause genital warts are different from those that lead to cancer. Specifically, warts are associated with HPV types 16, 18, 31, 33, and 35, though they have coincided with HPV 6 and 11, which can cause other kinds of warts. Individuals can be infected by multiple strands of HPV, and infection by one type does not inoculate against infection by others. In fact, contraction of a single type can make an individual much more likely to be infected when exposed to another type.
Transmission of the Virus
HPV is passed through contact, specifically through sexual contact. While many individuals believe that they can only pass the virus when they have an active outbreak, this is not the case. Certainly, an outbreak of sores makes it much easier to pass the virus onto another person, an absence of visible sores is no protection. HPV can be passed through foreplay and oral sex as well, transmitting the warts to the mouth. Individuals who are sexually active should always use a condom to protect themselves and their partners. It is important to have some basic knowledge of what to do if individuals partner has genital warts.
Signs of Infection
Genital warts are frequently asymptomatic, so even those who are infected by the disease may not know that they have it. During an outbreak, however, infected individuals can discover flesh-colored or grayish bumps around the genitals or the anus. The bumps are usually soft and have a texture like the bloom of a cauliflower. There are usually multiple such bumps, and while they are not usually painful, they may itch from time to time. These bumps can develop small lesions that weep or bleed, but this is rare and often occurs only in conjunction with other infections.
Unfortunately, there currently exists no cure for genital warts, though there may be treatments for the symptoms. Warts may be removed, but they can just as easily come back. Infection is lifelong, though outbreaks can be controlled and occur only rarely. The only way to stay safe from infection is to avoid catching it in the first place. Individuals should always use protection during any sexual play, especially during intercourse. There is also a vaccine for the Human Papilloma Virus that can help protect those who may be exposed to the virus and help them avoid contracting it. The vaccine was approved for use by women from ages 13 to 26 by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This vaccine is most effective if administered to girls before becoming sexually active.
Genital warts can be embarrassing, uncomfortable, and annoying, but they are very rarely any real cause for concern. Individuals who believe they may have contracted the virus or are experiencing symptoms of an outbreak should consult their doctor for treatment options and advice about how to live with the disease.