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Genital warts

3-minute read

What are genital warts?

Genital warts are a very common sexually transmitted infection that cause bumps on areas such as the vagina, penis, anus and scrotum.

What are the symptoms of genital warts?

Genital warts are usually painless, but they are sometimes itchy. They can be bumpy, flat, or appear in clusters.

If you have genital warts, you might also notice:

  • differences in the stream of urine or blood in the urine (for men)
  • sores on the vagina (for women)
  • blood in the poo

What causes genital warts?

Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). You can catch the HPV virus through skin-to-skin contact during vaginal, anal or oral sex.

There are about 40 types of HPV that can cause genital warts. Other types of HPV are associated with cervical cancer and anal cancer. The types of HPV that cause genital warts are unlikely to cause cancer.

About 2 in 3 people who have sex with someone infected with genital warts will catch them. The warts will usually appear within 3 months of having contact. If you have HPV but no symptoms, you can still pass it on to someone else.

How are genital warts diagnosed?

A doctor will diagnose genital warts by looking at the bumps on the skin. They may suggest you are checked for other sexually transmitted infections at the same time.

How are genital warts treated?

Genital warts may clear up without treatment. However, if they are painful, unsightly, itchy or annoying, they can be treated. Treatment doesn't get rid of the virus itself, just the warts. Your immune system may clear the virus, or it may persist undetected.

Treatment options include:

  • wart paint (specifically for genital warts)
  • freezing (cryotherapy) or burning off
  • laser treatment
  • cream to boost the immune system to fight the HPV virus
  • surgery

Treatments for other types of warts are not suitable for genital warts. See your doctor to discuss treatment options.

Can genital warts be prevented?

The HPV vaccine protects you against the types of HPV that cause most genital warts as well as the high-risk types of HPV that cause cancer. However, the vaccine doesn't protect against all types of HPV.

Any woman aged 25 to 74 who has ever been sexually active should have a Cervical Screening Test every 5 years. The Cervical Screening Test detects HPV and has replaced the Pap smear.

Safe sex can reduce your risk of catching genital warts. Condoms reduce the risk of infection by HPV, but don't completely stop the spread of the virus. However, condoms provide protection against other sexually transmitted infections and are an important part of safe sex for many couples.

Resources and support

For more information about genital warts, HPV, or cervical cancer, go to your doctor or sexual health clinic, or visit the sexual health and family planning website for your state or territory.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2020


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