Genital warts are the result of a viral infection.

Warts are small fleshy growths, bumps or skin changes that appear on or around the genital, anal and (rarely) the throat through oral sex.

Most visible genital warts are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) types 6 and 11. These infections are common and very rarely cause any serious health problems. It is estimated that over 50% of sexually active people aged 15-49 have been infected with a genital wart virus.

How can I catch genital warts?

You can get infected with genital HPV through skin to skin contact, including vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus.

The virus will not pass through a condom but as condoms do not cover all of the genital area it is possible to infect genital skin that is not covered by the condom.

Warts can spread from the genital area to the area around the anus without having anal sex.

You cannot get genital warts from sharing baths or towels, from swimming pools, toilet seats or from sharing cups, plates or cutlery.

What are the symptoms?

Most people with HPV infection will not develop visible warts and the virus will go away on its own.

This means you may not know whether you or your partner have the virus.

If warts do appear, this can happen from 6 months to a year after coming into contact with the virus.

You might notice small, fleshy growths, bumps or skin changes which may appear anywhere in or on the genital, anal or throat area. They might be inside the vagina or anus, so may not be immediately visible.

Genital warts are usually painless but may occasionally itch and cause some inflammation, or bleeding from the anus or the urethra (the tube that carries urine).

How do I know if I've got it?

There is no routine test for genital warts. If you can see lumps that you think may be warts, then you can visit an AXESS sexual health clinic or your GP. A health professional will be able to tell you whether the lumps are genital warts and if you need treatment. They can also discuss treatment options with you.

Can it be treated?

You will only be offered treatment if you have visible warts. The aim of treatment is only to remove visible warts. It will not clear the infection from your body completely. This means that the warts may come back.

Treatment may include the freezing of the warts by a health professional or creams or liquids prescribed for home use.

Wart treatments sold at the pharmacy are not suitable for use in the genital area.

How can it be prevented?

Condoms can help prevent the spread of genital warts, but do not prevent infection from contact with other parts of the anus or genitals that are not covered by the condom.

Avoid sharing sex toys. If you do share them, wash them or cover them with a new condom before anyone else uses them.

The main thing that prevents visible warts developing is your immune system’s response to the virus. If the immune system is preventing the virus from replicating quickly then there are usually no visible warts. Reducing the amount you smoke and drink, as well as living a healthy balanced lifestyle can help support your immune system to fight the virus effectively.

What will happen if I have genital warts but I don't get them treated?

It is rare for genital warts to cause any long term health problems.

For more information on genital warts click here