Genital warts are the second most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in England. They are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). They resemble small fleshy bumps on the skin and are found on and around the genital area. Genital warts usually don’t cause any pain or threat to health, however, they can look extremely unpleasant, which may cause emotional distress.
The papilloma virus that causes genital warts is passed from person to person through sexual contact. Both men and women can carry and pass on the virus. Unlike Chlamydia, genital warts can be passed on through skin to skin contact as well as penetrative sex. It is much more likely for the infection to spread if visible warts are already present, though it is still possible to pass on the infection even if the warts have disappeared. The virus is unable to pass through condoms, however, if the genital warts are on a part of the genitals not covered by the condom, then the infection can still be spread. Genital warts can spread to the anal area without necessarily engaging in anal sex. If partaking in oral sex, it is possible for the infection to develop in the mouth, although this is very rare. Genital warts cannot be spread from kissing, hugging or from sharing household objects, such as bath towels, toilet seats, plates and cutlery.
The human papilloma virus belongs to a family of more than a hundred different viral strains. These different strains can affect different areas of the body. There are around thirty strains of HPV that can affect the genital skin. However, most of these strains rarely cause any visible symptoms. It is estimated that approximately ninety percent of all genital wart cases are caused by just two strains of the HPV – type 6 and type 11.