Genital warts (Condylomata acuminata) are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), one of the most common sexually transmitted infections, affecting at least 20 million Americans. As many as 5.5 million people contract HPV each year. In most cases, the body will clear the infection on its own.
There are more than 100 different types of HPV, and only some cause genital warts. About 40 types are spread by sexual contact. Other types cause warts on the hands, feet, and face. These types of HPV do not cause genital warts. The virus lives inside your body's cells, where it replicates; eventually the virus breaks out of its original host cell to infect other cells.
Genital warts are contagious and are transmitted by sexual contact with an infected partner. Approximately two-thirds of people who are intimate with an infected partner will get genital warts within three months of contact.
Genital HPV is a leading cause of cervical cancer. There are two genital HPV types that are considered "high risk" since they can cause cervical cancer. There are several other types that are considered "intermediate risk" for cervical cancer. The types that can cause visible genital warts are "low risk." Regular Pap testing is critical to ensure that changes in the cervix related to HPV do not develop into cervical cancer. Vaccination against HPV does not replace the need for regular Pap testing and "safe sex."