Genital warts are the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) seen at sexual health clinics in the UK. Caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), of which there are over 100 different types, most genital warts are the result of just two types of the virus (types six and 11). The virus is easily passed from one person to another (whether men or women) through sexual contact. You don't need to have penetrative sex to catch them; close genital contact (skin to skin) is enough to pass on the virus. Most people will not develop warts and the virus will go away without treatment, but you may not know whether you or your partner has the virus. If you get visible warts, you might notice small, fleshy growths, bumps or skin changes. These symptoms may appear anywhere in the genital or anal area, either externally or internally.
How to Avoid
Any genital-on-genital contact can spread warts, and they're one of the few STIs that can't be stopped with condoms, although condoms will reduce your risk and will protect you against plenty of other nasties. Avoiding sex with a genital wart sufferer might not be feasible because the virus doesn't always produce visible symptoms, so stay vigilant and get yourself checked out at the first sign of a wart appearing. All girls aged 12-13 are now offered the HPV vaccination to protect them from cancer of the cervix, as part of the NHS vaccination programme. This vaccination will also help to protect against some, but not all, of the strains of HPV that cause genital warts.
Treatment can involve prescription creams (but not over-the-counter wart preparations), freezing the warts, using a laser to remove them, or surgery. The important thing is to speak to your doctor or local GUM clinic so they can advise on the best way to treat your particular case.