Genital warts, which are also known as “venereal warts”, are a highly contagious
disease that is transmitted sexually. The disease is caused by various forms of human
papillomavirus (HPV). 90 percent of all cases of genital warts are caused by types
6 and 11 of HPV. Most of the people who get these two strains never develop any symptoms
and visible warts. HPV may also cause cervical cancer. Around 70 percent of cervical
cancer cases result from types 16 and 18. The strains, however, of HPV that bring
about genital warts are not related to the ones that cause cervical cancer.
Genital warts are small cauliflower-shaped bumps that are flesh-colored. They are
often as tiny as 2 millimeters in diameter, but they can grow in clusters and expand
into large masses in the genital region.
In women, genital warts grow on the inside and outside of the vagina, cervix, uterus,
and around the anus. Although the chances of contracting genital warts are almost
the same for women and men, the symptoms may be not as apparent in the men.
In men, genital warts are usually found on the tip of the penis. They may also develop
on the scrotum, on the shaft of the penis, and around the anus.
Genital warts may also form in the mouth and throat of individuals who have engaged
in oral sex with a contaminated partner.
HPV is able to penetrate a person’s mucosal surfaces and skin through the small abrasions
in the genital region during sexual intercourse. Once the cells are attacked by HPV,
there may be a latency or rest period of a few months to several years. This means
that the HPV is just undergoing an incubation phase. It doesn’t mean that having
sex with a person whose HPV is in incubation saves you from becoming infected. In
fact, the HPV virus can persist from 3 to 24 months without showing any symptom.
This makes it difficult to track down the source of the disease and also increases
the number of HPV carriers.
Genital warts can easily be diagnosed by medical practitioners through direct visual
examination. This involves a thorough observation of the thighs and the pelvic region,
as well as the mouth and throat areas. But because genital warts are similar to other
skin conditions in appearance, there may be some cases of misdiagnosis.
Hirsuties papillaris genitalis, which is also known as “pearly penile papules (PPP)”,
is commonly confused for genital warts in males. It is, however, not contagious.
Treatment is also not necessary, though some may opt for methods to get rid of it
because it is unsightly and slight uncomfortable. Molluscum contagiosum (MC), which
is a viral skin infection that appears as small dome-shaped lesions that are usually
flesh-colored, should also not be mistaken for genital warts.
In adults, MC is often transmitted through intercourse and develops on the lower
abdomen, inner thighs, genital area, and buttocks. Genital warts should also not
be mixed up with Fordyce’s spots, which are tiny, painless, pale lumps on the labia
or penis shaft. These spots are merely of cosmetic concern and are non-contagious.