Genital warts are small, gray or skin-colored bumps that grow in or near the genitals. They're one of the most common types of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). They're caused by several types of the human papillomavirus (HPV).
The warts normally appear near the vagina, vulva, urethra, cervix, penis, larynx, or anus. Sometimes, they're so small and flat that you might not notice them right away. They may clump together or look like cauliflower.
You might feel itching, bleeding, burning, or pain. But genital warts can often take months or years to show, if they ever do.
Your doctor will decide whether your genital warts need treatment with medications, cryotherapy (freezing off the warts), surgery, or an acid solution.
Who's at Risk?
Anyone who's sexually active can get or spread HPV.
Some things can make you more likely to get genital warts. They include:
- Having more than one sex partner (or a partner who does)
- Being pregnant
- Having a weakened or damaged immune system
There's a vaccine for people 9 to 26 years old. You get it as three injections over a 6-month period. Or you can get the same amount of protection from just two shots as long as you get both doses before age 15.
You must get the shots before you're exposed to HPV in order for it to work. The vaccine won't protect you if you've already been infected with certain HPV strains, but it can protect you from many other, but not all types of HPV you have not been exposed to.
Can You Prevent Genital Warts?
The best way to avoid catching or spreading genital warts is to not have vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
Your partner might have an STD but not have any symptoms or know they have it. Talk to your partner about using a condom during sex. But remember, HPV spreads easily, even with condoms.
Limit the number of people you have sex with. Don't have sex with anyone who has genital warts or is being treated for them.
Get the HPV vaccine, too. It can protect you from getting two of the HPV strains that cause genital warts.