Genital warts

Just as you can get warts on your hands or feet, you can get warts on your penis, vagina or cervix. Transmission primarily happens through skin contact or sex.


The usual kind is virus-driven. The bug that causes most of them is called ‘human papillomavirus’, or HPV. As it is with a lot of viral infections, genital warts are pretty common, and they are likely to go away by themselves in time.

The problem is that HPV exists in many strains. Most are benign enough for your immune system to fight. But some are not so benign, particularly in genital involvement, where they are associated with cancer. Why genital warts can turn dangerous is not completely clear, but it is known that two strains of HPV do carry an ‘oncogene’, a bit of genetic material that can start trouble in infected host cells if conditions are right.


A doctor should take a look at your genital warts. There is a topical treatment, and removal by the usual means is usually straightforward.

Remember, though, that this is a viral infection. Removing the warts is a way of removing possible future tumours, and a way of dampening the spread of your infection to someone else. What’s really involved in this is your immune system and your contact with other people.

There is vaccination against several strains of HPV now. It’s given to high school kids in anticipation of future sexual activity.


It may take a few years of treatment until your warts stop coming back. Even then, since you have viral genetic material in your own genome now, you need to be especially watchful for recurrence. This is especially so for women, who should adhere to their cervical screening schedule very carefully.

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