Genital Warts

by Michael_Koger

Genital warts are a well-known complication of human papillomavirus infection.

Of the many potential consequences of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, genital warts are common on the globe. Regardless of whether the patient has symptoms, the skin lesions which develop in these patients are highly contagious. Transmission of the virus can therefore take place to someone else who comes in contact with them. Other names for this medical condition are condylomata acuminata or venereal warts [1, 2].

The skin lesions of genital warts tend to be soft, moist, and flesh-colored. They occur in various sizes and shapes, and there may be a cauliflower-type appearance in clusters. Moreover, they may affect the anal or genital region of the body.

Early Detection of Disease

In general, physicians diagnose genital warts with physical examination through observation of the skin.  Unlike many other sexually transmitted diseases, there is no routine test to screen for the presence of HPV infection; however, women who already have a diagnosis of cervical cancer may undergo a laboratory test to assess the presence of the virus [1].    

It may be possible to detect the presence of genital warts with the application of vinegar to areas of the skin where genital warts are likely to exist, and this procedure can cause the skin to turn white in the region of the infection [1]. 

Methods of secondary prevention such as the Pap test in women are useful as they serve in the early detection of disease.  This use of cervical cytologic screening has dramatically reduced the death rate of women from cervical cancer in the United States and other parts of the world where Pap tests are available [1]. 

For anal cancer prevention in men, some physicians perform annual Pap tests of the rectum in men who have sex with men.  However, there is no official recommendation to do that examination on a routine basis [1].  Nevertheless, anal cancer can occur as a complication of HPV infection. 

Methods of Treatment

There is also a variety of medical treatments for genital warts such as imiquimod cream, 20 percent podophyllin antimitotic solution, 0.5 percent podofilox solution, five percent 5-fluorouracil cream, and trichloroacetic acid [1, 2].  Pregnant women cannot receive therapy with 5-fluorouracil cream, podophyllin, or podofilox solution.  None of these treatments cures the disease, but they do bring some relief of symptoms in many clients.

It is also possible to remove the warts through cryosurgery in which the physician freezes them.  Additionally, he or she may burn the lesions with electrocautery.  Laser therapy is another alternative, but the patient should only receive one of these procedures rather than a combination of them [2]. 

HPV Vaccine

The HPV vaccine has licensure in the United States for use in girls and boys between the ages of 9 and 26.  The recommendation is that they take it at the age of 11 or 12; however, those who do not receive it then can still receive the vaccination through their 26th birthday as a “catch-up” immunization [1, 2].

Like most vaccines, the HPV vaccine serves only to prevent infection with that virus.  It has no benefit in the treatment of anyone who has already acquired the disease [1]. 


Though many individuals who acquire HPV infection do not develop complications, effective health education and methods of prevention are necessary to lessen spread of this common sexually transmitted disease.


  1. Centers for Disease Control.  (2013).  Human papillomavirus (HPV).  Retrieved August 10, 2013. 
  2. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.  (2010).  Human papillomavirus (HPV) and genital warts.  Retrieved August 10, 2013.
  3. The photo shows the oral cavity of an HIV-positive individual who has also acquired human papillomavirus infection.  Reprinted with permission from Centers for Disease Control/Sol Silverman, Jr., D.D.S.


The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact their physician for advice.

Updated: 08/18/2013, Michael_Koger
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