Did you know you can get warts down under?
Genital warts are caused by some types of the Human Papilloma Virus (or wart virus). Genital warts are spread by vaginal, anal and oral sex. The number of people infected with genital warts is rising in Ireland and it is one of the most common STIs here.
What are the symptoms?
- Many HPV infections are invisible and have no symptoms.
- Warts or lumps will be present on the vagina, penis, testicles, scrotum, anus, urethra and thighs. Discharge may also be present.
- Warts can appear in the throat, but this is rare.
- Genital warts are soft to touch and can be itchy. Some warts are painful and some are painless.
- The warts can be very small and go unnoticed.
- There may only be one wart present or there may be a cluster of them.
- If they are untreated, they can grow and become uncomfortable.
- The symptoms usually appear from two or three weeks to two or three months after unprotected sex.
- They grow more quickly in women during pregnancy or if there is another infection.
What treatment can you get?
Talk to your doctor or go to an STI clinic. for a diagnosis of the infection. There is no cure for HPV. The warts can be treated with different treatments, but once you have the virus they might come back at a later stage in your life. Your doctor can give you a prescription cream to apply on the warts.
Creams tend to take a while to work: anything from four to 16 weeks. The warts can also be removed in a clinic. This involves freezing the warts with liquid nitrogen over the course of a few weeks. The warts will then crust over and eventually fall off. The warts can be lasered off too, but this is expensive, takes time to heal and could spread the virus. These treatments may be painful.
- You can help yourself by keeping the skin clean and dry, using Calendula cream and taking salt baths.
- The Well Woman Centre of Ireland also recommends using yoga, massage and other relaxation therapies.
- Many doctors recommend against smoking for people with genital warts, as people who smoke seem to take longer to clear the wart virus.
- Since the warts are infectious, avoid touching them and use gloves to put on ointment or cream. Try to avoid picking at or squeezing them.
What happens if you don’t treat genital warts?
- You may experience a lot of pain and discomfort.
- You may have another infection you do not know about. If you have genital warts, you are more likely to have another STI. If you don’t treat the genital warts, you may be leaving yourself vulnerable to another STI.
- They can cause problems in pregnancy. Labour can be difficult if there are warts present. The baby can also become infected if it comes into contact with the warts during labour, which can cause a serious condition called recurrent respiratory papillomatosis.
How can you prevent genital warts?
By using condoms during vaginal sex, oral sex and anal sex. Unfortunately even condoms don't guarantee full protection against warts or Herpes as you can be infected by contact with skin not covered by the condom. Warts are extremely contagious and two thirds of people who have sex with an infected partner will develop them. If you notice that your partner has warts or sore lumps around the genitals, avoid sex and get them to see a doctor as soon as possible.
Find out where your nearest STI/GUM clinic is to get tested.
Remember: The age of sexual consent in Ireland is 17. If you're over 16, you can consent to medical treatment including any treatment or tests needed.