What are warts?

Anal and genital warts are caused by a virus (the human papillomavirus or HPV) that lives in the skin. The virus is transient meaning it is not a virus that you have for life.  Most people with the virus manage to get rid of it within a year and most people get rid of the visible warts within 3 months.

The wart virus (HPV) is passed by skin-to-skin contact: this can happen during sex. It's also possible for the virus to be passed on when no visible warts are on the skin.

The genital wart strains aren't passed on other parts of the body like the hands or fingers.

How are warts prevented?

You can stop warts being passed on by using a condom when having sex

How do I know if I have warts?

A few weeks or many months after infection very small growths (the size of a pinhead to begin with) appear on their own or in groups:

• can grown on your penis, anus, groins and testicles

• may itch

• might bleed in the anus

• will go away themselves eventually even without treatment

Is there treatment for warts?

Genital warts can be diagnosed by a doctor or sexual health nurse.  They can't be cured with treatments from chemists that are used for warts on the hand.

Treatments might include:

• freezing the warts with liquid nitrogen

• using a cream at home

• sometimes warts can be burnt or scraped off

The wart virus lives on in the body even when the warts have gone, so they can come back and need treating again. If you have HIV, warts can be harder to treat.

How will I know when the virus is gone?

There is no test to determine whether the HPV virus is gone.  The longer the warts stay away, the more likely it is that the virus is gone.  If the warts have been fully resolved for three months then you are unlikely to be very infectious.

Can genital warts cause cancer?

Some strains of HPV can cause genital cancer and in particular cervical (in women) and anal cancer (in both men and women).  The most common strains of HPV that cause genital warts are very unlikely to cause cancer.  And the strains that cause cancer are very unlikely to cause normal warts.  Anal cancer caused by HPV is more common in gay/bi men who have HIV.

Experts recommend that you examine yourself for any anal skin abnormalities and ask your doctor or nurse to examine you if you are worried about any skin changes.

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