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Seriousness of Genital Warts

The first thing anyone asks when they are unwell is usually 'just how serious is it?' and this is particularly so with STDs where infections such as gonorrhoea and syphilis can cause serious health problems.

But for those who contract genital warts, the good news is you don't need to panic - they are usually painless and most of the time they do not pose any serious threat to your health.

Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and appear as small fleshy growths, bumps or skin changes around the genitals or anus and are the second most common STD in the UK after Chlamydia.

They spread easily as you don't even need to have full penetrative sex to pass them on because HPV can spread by simple skin-to-skin contact. Furthermore, it can take up to a year for the warts to develop and during this time it is still possible to pass the infection on to someone else.

It should also be noted that rare strains of HPV, known as type 16 and 18 have been linked to cervical cancer. However, in the UK a vaccination programme is currently underway, with all girls given the vaccine Gardasil as they enter school year eight at 12 or 13 years old. The Gardasil vaccine protects against the two strains of HPV known to cause cervical cancer as well as another two strains responsible for around 90 per cent of genital warts.

So should you still get treated? The answer is yes. Although they may be relatively harmless, genital warts are unsightly and can cause significant psychological distress on top of ruining your sex life.

Furthermore, you have a responsibility not to infect others - just imagine how guilty you'd feel if you gave your partner genital warts - and so it's highly recommended that people remain sexually inactive until the disease has gone away and get treated as soon as possible.

The first thing to do is to book an appointment with your GP or go to your local sexual health clinic. Wart creams available over-the-counter will not work because they are designed to only treat warts on the hands - only prescribed medicines will be affective against genital warts so seeing a doctor is essential.

There are a host of treatment options available, including topical medications, such as creams or lotions that are applied directly to the warts, and cryotherapy, where the warts are frozen and removed.

Of course, as with all STDs, prevention is better than the cure when it comes to genital warts. Though they're not always effective, the best way to protect against contracting genital warts is to always wear a condom during sex, including oral sex.

Also, avoid sharing sex toys, though if you do then make sure you wash them or cover with a new condom before anyone else uses them.