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Genital Warts
Nov 7, 1996

What exactly are genital warts, and how serious are they? You mention that they're incurable, but what are the effects?

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Thank you for your question. Genital warts are caused by various strains of a virus called "Human Papilloma Virus", also known as HPV. This is an incurable infection, and is one of the more common Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD's). HPV could be a very serious infection.

Genital warts can be found on the penis, vagina, and rectum. They are transmitted by direct mucous membrane to mucous membrane contact (genital to genital contact, and genital to rectum contact). Physical contact with the warts can lead to infection. When the warts appear, they can have various appearances. They can resemble little "bumps", but can also resemble fleshy tumors, and they may have a cauliflower appearance to them. Over time, the warts can increase in size. Diagnosis is most often by visual diagnosis, and it can be confirmed by a biopsy (taking a piece of tissue from the warts and looking at it under a microscope). As you might imagine, these warts are very unsightly, and very embarrassing for the person whose got them.

Treatment of the warts can vary from case to case, and can ONLY be done by your physician. Treatment options consist of burning them off, freezing them off, putting acid on them (Trichloroacetic Acid [TCA]), putting chemicals on them (Podophyllin or Podofilox), and even surgical removal. In rare cases, treatment may involve Alpha Interferon and other treatments. It often takes several treatments to remove the warts. I must emphasize here that treatments only remove the growths themselves, not the underlying HPV infection. Therefore, even after treatments, the warts may grow back again and again and again. And lets face it....having warts burned off, frozen off, and putting acids and chemicals on your genital area and anal area isn't a pleasant experience.

The most scary aspect of HPV infection is that certain strains of this virus are linked to various forms of cancer. HPV is now linked to cancers of the penis, anus, and especially cervical cancer in women. So although the warts themselves may not be life-threatening, the cancers associated with certain strains of HPV, can be. In fact HPV can sometimes be detected on a pap smear in women. The fact that HPV is linked to certain types of cancer makes this a very serious disease. Luckily, not all persons with HPV will get cancer, but in those who do, it can be a life-threatening disease, especially if it's not diagnosed early.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to call the Centers for Disease Control at 1.800.232.4636 (Nationwide). Rick Sowadsky MSPH CDS



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