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How Are Genital Warts Spread?

Caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), genital warts are currently one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases today. Genital warts typically manifest as small, fleshy growths that are commonly described as resembling cauliflower. They can be pinkish, reddish, or grayish in color and can either be raised or more flattened in appearance. They can also grow in clusters and cover large sections of a person's genital or anal areas. Those who contract genital HPV via oral sex may wind up with growths in their mouth or throat.

However, it is important to note that not all people who are infected by genital HPV exhibit outward symptoms. Some people with genital warts never experience visible symptoms at all, but are still very much infected and capable of spreading the disease to others. Others can be infected by an incubating form of the virus for years before they ever experience an outbreak. For this reason, it is important that sexually active individuals get regular screenings to ensure infection hasn't occurred. If you have reason to believe that you have been exposed for sure, don't wait for symptoms to manifest to see your doctor. The sooner infection is detected and treated, the more effective treatment will ultimately be.

It is estimated that somewhere between 500,000 and 1 million people will contract genital warts within the next year, but the chances of this happening become significantly lower when people take the time to educate themselves as to how genital warts can spread, what will and will not prevent infection, and what they can personally do to maintain their sexual health.

  1. The most common way genital warts are spread from one person to another is via sexual intercourse with an infected person. This can be penetrative vaginal sex, but you can also catch genital HPV via anal or oral sex as well. Although it never hurts to make sure you have protected sex, it's extremely important to be aware that this will not necessarily prevent infection since genital warts are spread via skin contact, as opposed to fluid exchange. Warts don't just grow on the penis or in the vagina either. Genital HPV can also affect patches of skin on the thighs, scrotum, labia, anal area, or surrounding regions. None of these areas are covered by a condom.

  2. Babies can catch genital warts at birth if they are born to a mother who is experiencing an outbreak at the time. Many of these babies wind up developing the associated lesions in their mouths or throats. If this happens, the growths will need to be removed via laser surgery. Interferon therapy may be administered in tandem with the procedure to help control the condition and prevent it from threatening the baby's health.

  3. As is the case with many viruses and skin infections, genital warts can be spread via contact with objects or personal items that have been used by an infected person. Examples include towels, bathing suits, undergarments, bedding, or medical instruments that have not been properly sterilized in between uses.

Those who think they may be infected or might have been exposed to the disease should seek treatment immediately and avoid intimate contact with other people until proper treatment and medical advice has been received. They should especially avoid having sex of any kind - even safe sex - to avoid the possible passing of the virus to a partner.