Skip to:Main Content

Washington and Lee University

Washington and Lee University
Washington and Lee University Campus Image

HPV/Genital Warts

Human papillomavirus

HPV is a sexually-transmitted virus that has the potential to cause abnormal cell growth in various parts of the body, including the genitals, anus, feet, mouth, and respiratory tract. Forty out of the 100 different strains of HPV affect the anogenital region. HPV-6 and 11 cause 90% of all genital warts while HPV-16 and 18 are responsible for 70% of all cervical cancer cases, worldwide. Genital warts are flesh- or grey-colored growths that appear on the genitals and/or anal regions of those infected.

HPV on college campuses:

A recent study found that an estimated 32% of females on college campuses are infected with HPV.

Microscopic Image of HPVOne study of college students showed that in 91% of women with new HPV infections, HPV was undetectable for up to two years.

HPV is the number one STI on college campuses.

How is it transmitted?

HPV is mainly transmitted via vaginal or anal intercourse, but may also be passed during oral sex and genital-to-genital contact. In rare cases, it can be passed from a pregnant mother to her child, in which case the child will develop warts in his or her throat.

How can you protect yourself?

Using a condom during sexual interactions is a good first line of defense, but it may not fully protect you from HPV. There are currently two, FDA-approved vaccines (Gardasil and Cervarix) that protect women (between the ages of 9 and 26) from specific HPV strains. Cervarix protects against the HPV-16/18, the most common types that cause cervical cancer, while Gardasil protects against HPV-6/11, the most common causes of genital warts, in addition to HPV-16/18. Gardasil, in contrast to Cervarix, may also be given to men. Both vaccines are administered in a three-dose series over the span of 6 months. (Note: The W&L Health Center offers Gardasil.) These vaccines have been proven to reduce the risk of getting these specific HPV strains in 100% of non-infected women. However, they may not protect against all forms HPV responsible for genital warts and/or cervical cancer.

What are the symptoms in women?

Genital warts usually appear three to eight weeks post-contraction of HPV. Women who have HPV-induced genital warts typically develop growths on their labia minora, vaginal opening, vaginal canal, cervix, and in the anal area. These growths are not painful but may be uncomfortable due to their location and size. There are no other visible symptoms of HPV.

What are the symptoms in men?

Gential warts usually appear three to eight weeks post-contraction of HPV. Men who have HPV-induced genital warts can develop growths on their penis, urethra, scrotum, and in the anal area. These growths are not painful but may be uncomfortable due to their location and size. There are no other visible symptoms of HPV.

How is it diagnosed?

For women, genital warts are generally found during an annual pap smear. Physicians can diagnose males with genital warts by performing medical techniques, including acetowhitening and colposcopy. Lab tests may also be done to verify HPV DNA in an individual who suspects HPV infection.

What is the treatment?

There is no cure for HPV. However, genital warts may be temporarily removed by medical techniques or ameliorated with application of certain topical creams. In some cases, genital warts go away on their own and do not require treatment. However, it is still important to see a physician if you are experiencing any symptoms of genital warts. It is also crucial to realize that HPV is still transmissible, even during times of being visibly wart-free.

What are the long-term effects on health?

Because there is no cure for HPV, an individual who has been infected will continue to experience wart outbreaks and be capable of spreading the virus throughout his/her lifetime. An individual infected with certain strains of HPV is at greater risk for cervical cancer.

For more information for genital warts and HPV, you can visit http://www.cdc.gov/ or make an appointment to talk with a physician at the Washington and Lee University Student Health Center.