Genital warts are a type of sexually transmitted disease (STD). The disease causes warts (small bumps or growth ) to form in and around the genitals and rectum. Certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) cause genital warts.
Some warts are very small. Still, you can usually feel or see them. Healthcare providers may call genital warts condyloma; STDs are also called sexually transmitted infections (STIs). You can give genital warts to other people.
Genital warts can infect the:
An estimated 400,000 people — most of them in their late teens and twenties — get genital warts every year. The virus that causes these warts, HPV, is the most common STD. Approximately 79 million Americans have HPV. There are many different types of HPV. Not all cause genital warts.
Genital warts affect all genders. It’s most common in teenagers and young adults. Men are slightly more at risk. Your chances of getting genital warts increase if you:
Yes, genital warts and the virus that causes them are both highly contagious. There isn’t a cure for HPV. Once you have the virus, you’re always infectious. Even if you don’t have symptoms like genital warts, or you have the warts treated and removed, you can still infect another person with HPV and genital warts.
Certain types of HPV cause this STD. Genital warts spread through skin-to-skin contact during sex. A different virus causes warts on your hands and feet. You can’t get genital warts by touching yourself or someone else with a hand or foot that has warts.
Genital warts spread through:
Some people develop genital warts within weeks after infection. Often, though, it can take months or years for warts to appear. For this reason, it can be difficult to pinpoint when you got infected.
It’s also possible to have the virus and not get genital warts. You might not know if you have warts inside the anus or elsewhere in the body. If you don’t have symptoms, you may unknowingly infect others with the virus.
Warts look like rough, skin-colored growths. Genital warts often have a bumpy cauliflower look, but some are flat. Genital warts aren’t usually painful. Occasionally, they cause:
Your healthcare provider can diagnose external genital warts by looking at them. Internal warts are more challenging to diagnose. You may get these tests:
Genital warts can go away on their own. Or they may get larger or multiply. There are different ways to remove genital warts. You may need several treatments to get rid of warts. For most of them, you’ll receive an anesthetic first to numb the treatment area. During treatment, you should abstain from sexual contact.
Your healthcare provider may use one of these methods to treat genital warts:
Yes. There’s no cure for HPV, the virus that causes warts. As a result, you can get genital warts over and over again.
Genital warts on the cervix or inside the vagina can cause cervical changes (dysplasia) that can lead to cervical cancer. The warts cause these changes, not HPV.
There are other types of HPV that increase cancer risk. The HPV strains that cause cancer are not the same ones that cause genital warts.
If you have an active outbreak of genital warts while pregnant, your increased hormone levels may cause the warts to bleed, get larger or multiply. Rarely, these complications happen:
The HPV vaccine can protect against certain types of HPV, including the ones that cause genital warts and certain cancers. There are more than 100 different types of HPV . Even if you already have the type of HPV that causes genital warts, the vaccine could still protect you from other strains.
Recent CDC and FDA guidance recommends that men and women up to 45 years of age get vaccinated to protect against HPV. HPV is the most common STD and can cause certain cancers and genital warts. More than 14 million new HPV infections occur in the US each year. Vaccination starts as early as age 9 ( most people initiate between age 11-12 years)
If you’re sexually active, you can take these steps to protect yourself from getting or spreading HPV, genital warts and other STDs:
Genital warts and HPV are common STDs. These types of warts, and the HPV types that cause them, don’t increase cancer risk. Some people have genital warts just once, while others have recurring outbreaks. Treatment can get rid of the warts, but it can’t cure them or HPV. You’ll always be infectious and need to practice safe sex with your partners.
You should call your healthcare provider if you experience:
If you have genital warts, you may want to ask your healthcare provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Thousands of people get genital warts every year, and thousands more have the virus that causes them. Genital warts may not appear until months — sometimes years — after infection. Once you know you have genital warts and HPV, you should share this information with your sexual partners. Your healthcare provider can offer suggestions for preventing the spread of this STD. You can also take steps to lower your risk of getting other STDs.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/06/2020.