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What is HPV?

HPV stands for human papilloma virus. There are more than 100 types of HPV. Some produce warts — plantar warts on the feet, common hand warts, juvenile warts, butcher’s warts, and genital warts.

About 30 types of HPV can infect the genital area — the vulva, vagina, cervix, rectum, anus, penis, or scrotum.

  • Some types may cause genital warts.
  • Some types may cause changes in cells. These types increase the risk of cervical and certain other cancers.
  • Most types seem to have no harmful effect at all.

This brochure is about the types of HPV that cause genital warts.

How are genital warts spread?

Vaginal, anal, and oral sex play spread genital warts. Genital warts often grow more rapidly during pregnancy or when a person’s immune system is weakened by

  • diabetes
  • chemotherapy
  • Hodgkin’s disease
  • taking anti-rejection drugs after an organ transplant

How long does it take for genital warts to appear after a person gets infected?

Warts usually develop three weeks to six months after infection. But it may take longer.

How can I avoid getting genital warts?

  • Abstinence is the only 100 percent-effective way to avoid infection.
  • Use condoms every time. They can reduce the risk of genital warts but they are not as effective against HPV as they are against more serious infections, such as HIV.
  • Protect your immune system with a healthy lifestyle.
  • Stop smoking. Smokers may be more likely to develop genital warts than nonsmokers. They are also more likely to have warts recur.

What do genital warts look like?

They often are flesh-colored, soft to the touch, and look like miniature cauliflower florets. Usually they grow in more than one place and may cluster in large masses. Genital warts usually are painless but may itch.

You might see or feel genital warts in your vagina, vulva, cervix, penis, anus, or urethra. Although less likely, it is possible to have them in your mouth, on the lips, tongue and palate, or in the throat.

How are genital warts treated?

Very often, genital warts fade away by themselves. But sometimes they need to be removed. Warts can be removed with various treatments. There are several chemicals that can be applied directly to genital warts.

Genital warts also may be removed with cryotherapy (frozen off). They may be electrocauterized (burned off). Or they may be removed with surgery or with lasers. Less commonly, they are treated with injections of interferon or 5-fluorouracil/epinephrine.

Is there a cure for genital warts?

Most people are cleared of warts by the first series of treatments. Warts recur for some people, however, during several months after treatment — especially if they smoke cigarettes. And some people continue to have recurrences after long periods of time.

If you’re sexually active, sign-up for free STD testing reminders via email, text or both at If We All Test, we can help eliminate syphilis and other STDs in our community.