Genital warts are caused by a virus called Human Papillomavirus (HPV). There are many different types of HPV. It spreads easily, can infect different parts of the body, and can cause warts, or lead to cancer in both men and women. A vaccine is available for men and women to prevent the spread of the virus.
How do you get/give it?
HPV is spread through oral, vaginal or anal sex with a person who already has the virus. Even if you are using a condom, you can still get or spread HPV from contact with infected skin not covered by the condom.
Your sexual partner can still spread the virus even if they do not have visible genital warts. Many sexually active people have HPV or will have it at some point over their lifetime.
How can you tell if you have it?
There are often no symptoms of HPV infection so you can pass on the virus without even knowing you have it. If infected with the type of HPV that causes warts, you may notice small, bumpy warts on the sex organs, anus or thighs. Also, you may experience burning or itching on and around the sex organs. Most people who have sexual contact with a partner infected by genital warts will develop warts within three months.
Some types of HPV affect cells of the cervix. The only way to find out if HPV has affected your cervix is through cervical screening, also known as a PAP test.
How do you get tested?
If you think you have genital warts, you should visit a doctor or the Sexual Health Clinic. They can usually tell if you have genital warts by looking at them during an examination and then provide the right treatment options.
A doctor or health care professional can perform a cervical screening, or a pap test, to check for abnormal, or changed, cells of your cervix.
The HPV test is not covered through Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP). If you have a pap test and want it tested for HPV, you will have to pay for the test.
Where do I get tested?
How is it treated?
There is no cure for HPV once you are infected, but there are treatments available for genital warts and cervix cell changes the virus causes.
Trying to remove the visible warts does not eliminate HPV and genital warts can reappear. There are chemicals that can destroy external genital warts with direct application, but this may have to be repeated several times.
How do I NOT get HPV or genital warts?
If you choose to have sex, using a condom every time will lower your chance of getting HPV and other STIs. But it is important to remember that even if you are using a condom, you can still get or spread HPV from coming into contact with infected skin not covered by the condom.
Learn more about the vaccine for HPV that is 99% effective at preventing the types of HPV that cause most cases of genital warts and cervical cancer.