Human papilloma (pap-ee-LO-ma) virus (HPV) is the name given to more than 60 different viruses that cause warts on the skin. Millions of Americans are infected with HPV. Some types of HPV cause genital warts and are passed to others by skin-to-skin contact during vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
Most people who have HPV have no symptoms. They can carry and pass it to their sex partners without knowing it. Symptoms can appear as soon as 2 weeks or as long as years after you or your partner is infected.
- Small painless bumps or growths on the skin of the vulvar lips, bottom of the vaginal opening, deep inside the vagina, or around the buttocks, groin, or thighs
- Small painless bumps or growths on the shaft or head of the penis, or on the scrotum, groin, or thighs.
Genital warts are very easy to catch (contagious). Some people do not notice them because they are painless or may be on the inside of the vagina or anus or in the urethra of the man. Genital skin that looks normal may be infected with HPV.
Some HPV types can increase the risk for cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus, and penis.
HPV can cause abnormal Pap smears. Yearly Pap smears can find cervical cancer early by showing abnormal cells on the surface of the cervix. When abnormal cells are found and treated early, cancer can usually be prevented. Women with genital warts need to have Pap smears as their doctor recommends. They should also be aware that other risk factors for cervical cancer are first intercourse at an early age, smoking, and exposure to other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
It’s important that a pregnant woman tell her doctor or midwife if she or her partner(s) have or ever have had HPV or genital warts.
Genital warts sometimes cause problems during pregnancy and delivery. Warts can grow in size and number, bleed, or make delivery more difficult. This happens because of hormone changes in the body during pregnancy. A woman with genital warts does not need to have a cesarean delivery unless warts are blocking the birth canal.
The only sure way to know if you have HPV is through regular exams by your doctor. Sometimes your doctor will use a magnifying glass to identify small warts. A scraping of the cells may also be sent to the lab.
Treatment destroys infected cells but does not always destroy all of the infected cells. Because the virus can stay in the skin cells without symptoms, warts can return months or even years after treatment.
Be patient. Treatment often takes several visits, and your doctor may use different methods (topical solution or creams, freezing, laser therapy, or surgery). Your doctor can talk with you about HPV infections and the best treatment for you. Avoid sex while you are being treated. If you smoke, try to quit. It may help to clear up the warts faster.
Reduce your risks
If you have sex, you could be at risk for having an STD. See your doctor to be tested. Following are some ways to reduce your risk.
- Don’t have sex. Not having sex is the only sure way to prevent STDs.
- Limit your sexual partners. The best protection is to have sex with only one person who is free of infection and who does not have sex with other people.
- Know your partner. Talk with your partner before you have sex. You should know your partner’s past sexual history. Has your partner ever had an STD? How many sexual partners has he or she had?
- Look before you have sex. Do not be afraid to look before you have sex. If you see any sores, a rash, or discharge, talk to your partner about it. But remember, you can’t always tell by looking.
- Always use a condom. Protect yourself by using latex condoms with spermicide every time you have sex. Carry them with you and be sure to use them. Using condoms the right way is very, very important. For protection against pregnancy, use a spermicidal foam, jelly, or cream along with a condom.
- Get regular STD check-ups. You should get a regular check-up for STDs every 6 months if:
- You have sex with more than one partner
- You have sex with a new partner
- Your partner has sex with others
Other resources for STD information:
- Your county health department
- National STD hot line: 1-800-227-8922
Use condoms the right way
Except for not having sex (abstinence), latex condoms give the best protection from any sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Condoms are helpful only if they are used the right way.
Note: If you or your partner has an allergy to latex, talk with your doctor. Important steps for using condoms correctly:
- Use a latex condom every time you have sex.
- When using a lubricant, do not use anything oil-based like Vaseline. Use only water-based lubricants like K-Y Jelly
- Always put the condom on before the penis touches or enters the vagina.
- After ejaculation, the man should withdraw from the vagina while the penis is still erect. While taking the penis out of the vagina, hold onto the rim of the condom. This will keep it from slipping off.
- Pull the condom and the penis out of the vagina together.