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  • Michael Frey, MD

Genital Warts

The virus that causes genital warts is called human papillomavirus (HPV). This is the low-risk type of HPV; it does not cause cervical cancer.


  • HPV infection spreads from one person to another through sexual contact involving the anus, mouth, or vagina. The virus can be spread, even if you DO NOT see warts.

  • You may not see warts for 6 weeks to 6 months after becoming infected. Or you may not notice them for years.

  • Not everyone who has come into contact with the HPV virus and genital warts will develop them.

You are more likely to get genital warts and spread them more quickly if you:

  • Have multiple sexual partners

  • Are sexually active at an early age

  • Use tobacco or alcohol

  • Have a viral infection, such as herpes, and are stressed at the same time

  • Are pregnant

  • Have a weakened immune system due to a condition such as diabetes, pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, or medicines

Symptoms Genital warts can be so tiny, you cannot see them.

Warts can look like:

  • Flesh-colored spots that are raised or flat

  • Growths that look like the top of a cauliflower

Where they are found:

  • Inside the vagina or anus

  • Outside the vagina or anus, or on nearby skin

  • On the cervix inside the body

Genital warts can also occur on the:

  • Lips

  • Mouth

  • Tongue

  • Throat

Other symptoms are rare, but can include:

  • Increased dampness in the genital area near the warts

  • Increased vaginal discharge

  • Genital itching

  • Vaginal bleeding during or after sex


  • Freezing (cryosurgery)

  • Burning (electrocauterization)

  • Laser therapy

  • Surgery

  • Topical medication

If you have genital warts, all of your sexual partners should be examined by a provider and treated if warts are found. Even if you do not have symptoms, you should be treated. This is to prevent complications and avoid spreading the condition to others.

Outlook (Prognosis) Many sexually active young women become infected with HPV. In many cases, HPV goes away on its own.

Prevention HPV can be passed from person to person even when there are no visible warts or other symptoms. Practicing safer sex can help reduce your risk of getting HPV.

  • Always use male and female condoms. But be aware that condoms cannot fully protect you. This is because the virus or warts can also be on the nearby skin.

  • Have only one sexual partner, who you know is infection-free.

  • Limit the number of sexual partners you have over time.

  • Avoid partners who take part in high-risk sexual activities.

An HPV vaccine is available:

  • It protects against the HPV types that cause most HPV cancers in women and men. The vaccines DO NOT treat genital warts, they prevent the infection.

  • The vaccine can be given to boys and girls 9 to 12 years old. If the vaccine is given at this age, it is a series of 2 shots.

  • If the vaccine is given at 15 years or older, it is a series of 3 shots.

  • The vaccine can be given to adults up to age 45.


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