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Genital Warts
(HPV Infection)

Facts and Definition of Genital Warts (HPV Infection)

  • Genital warts are flesh-colored or gray growths found in the genital area and anal region in both men and women.
  • Genital warts are sometimes referred to as condyloma acuminata or venereal warts.
  • Genital warts is the most common sexually-transmitted disease (STD) caused by a virus. The warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).
  • Genital warts affect both men and women and can occur at any age.
    • Most people with genital warts are between the ages of 17-33 years. Genital warts are highly contagious. There is high risk of getting the infection from a single sexual contact with someone who has genital warts.
    • In children younger than three years of age, genital warts are thought to be transmitted by nonsexual methods such as direct manual contact. Nevertheless, the presence of genital warts in children should raise the suspicion for sexual abuse.
  • Up to 20% of people with genital warts will have other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

What Causes Genital Warts (HPV)?

Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Over 100 types of HPVs have been identified; about 40 of these types have the potential to infect the genital area.

  • Most genital warts are caused by two specific types of the virus (HPV-6 and -11), and these HPV types are considered "low risk," meaning they have a low cancer-causing potential. Other HPV types are known causes of premalignant changes and cervical cancers in women. HPV-16, one of the "high-risk" types, is responsible for about 50% of cervical cancers. HPV types 18, 31, 33, 35, 39, 45, 51, 52, 56, 58, 59, and 68 are other known "high risk" virus types. High-risk HPV types are also referred to as oncogenic HPV types. HPV is believed to cause 100% of cases of cervical cancer.
  • Common warts are not the same as genital warts and are caused by different HPV types that infect the skin.

The viral particles are able to penetrate the skin and mucosal surfaces through microscopic abrasions in the genital area, which occur during sexual activity. Once cells are invaded by HPV, a latency (quiet) period of months to years may occur, during which there is no evidence of infection.

  • Generally, about two-thirds of people who have sexual contact with a partner who has genital warts develop them within three months.
  • Genital warts are indirectly associated with use of birth control pills due to increased sexual contact without the use of barrier protection, multiple sex partners, and having sex at an early age.

What Do Genital Warts Look Like (Pictures)?

Picture 1: Female patient with extensive labial venereal warts. Photo courtesy of Centers for Disease Control/Joe Millar.
Picture 1: Female patient with extensive labial venereal warts. Photo courtesy of Centers for Disease Control/Joe Millar.
Picture 2: Male patient with venereal warts in the anal region. Photo courtesy of Centers for Disease Control/Dr. Wiesner.
Picture 2: Male patient with venereal warts in the anal region. Photo courtesy of Centers for Disease Control/Dr. Wiesner.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/2/2016

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Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Genital Warts (HPV Infection):

Genital Warts (HPV Infection) - Treatment

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Genital Warts - Symptoms and Signs

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Genital Warts - Causes

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Genital Warts - Prevention

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STD Quiz: Sexually Transmitted Diseases Are On the Rise!

Genital warts is one of the most common STDs, and STDs in general are on the rise from last year. Are you taking the necessary precautions to prevent catching an STD? See how STD smart you are!

  1. Can condoms protect you from contracting STDs>
  2. How many people in the US are living with HIV?

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Warts, Genital »

Until the 19th century, genital warts (GWs) were believed to be a form of syphilis or gonorrhea.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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