Genital warts (condyloma)

There are over a hundred known varieties of the human papillomavirus (HPV). Most of them cause warts on hands and feet, but some strains of the virus have adapted to attacking the genitals of men and women, causing what are known as genital warts.

Different types of genital warts
HPV which attacks the genitals can somewhat simplified be divided into three different types.
1. Common strains of genital warts.
2. The strain of warts called condyloma.
3. The types of HPV which attack the mucous membrane in women and can cause cervical cancer.

A common feature of all three types is that they are transmitted almost exclusively through sexual contact. HPV infections in the genital area are classified as sexually transmitted diseases and are called genital warts, regardless of what type it is. There is a theoretical possibility of catching an infection via dirty borrowed underwear, swimsuits, dirty towels or toilet seats. However, many cases which allegedly have been transmitted via other sources than sexual contact are thought to be the patient’s attempt to cover up an extra-relational affair.

What does condyloma look like?
Condyloma is the most common type of genital HPV in the UK. Condyloma is almost exclusively caused by HPV types 6 and 11. Condyloma typically causes wart-like growths on and around the genitals. In women, the warts usually occur around the vaginal opening and around anus. In men, warts are often found on the foreskin, around the urethral opening and on the penile shaft.

Other types of genital warts, what do they look like?
There are a few other types of genital warts besides HPV types 6 and 11 (condyloma), which cause warts on the genitals. In some exotic countries, for example in South America, there is a possibility of contracting genital warts that form clusters on top of each other. In some unfortunate cases, such as when warts block the urethral opening and prevent the person from urinating, surgery is needed.

HPV in the genital area may be symptomless
Nothing is certain when it comes to viruses. Some people affected by condyloma do not develop any warts, they remain symptomless. Nevertheless, they carry the infection and may pass it on to others who then may develop wart structures in the genital area. The number of unrecorded cases (passive carriers) may be as large as the number of infected people who develop warts. Some strains of genital HPV are especially adapted to attacking the mucous membrane in the vagina in women, causing cellular changes in the cervix. Especially HPV types 16 and 18 are believed to be the cause of almost all cases of cervical cancer.

How can you tell if you have condyloma or genital warts?
It normally takes a few weeks from the moment you catch the infection before warts start to develop. Usually, a few warts will develop around the opening of the vagina in women or on the foreskin in men. It is also common for both sexes to develop warts around the anus. Condyloma seldom causes inconveniences other than cosmetic disfigurements, and that you have to notify your sex partners of your disease according to the Public Health Act.

When and how can you be cured of condyloma?
In most cases, the viral infection goes away on its own in about 1-2 years. The time it takes for genital HPV infections to disappear is approximately the same as that of other HPV infections, such as plantar warts and other types of common warts. When your immune system is ready, it destroys the HPV virus quickly and the warts automatically disappear.

Why are some people unable to get rid of their condyloma or genital warts?
All cases of HPV infections eventually go away, but for some reasons related to the immune system, the time it takes may vary between individuals. Many who are infected believe that they are healed when their warts disappear, but then after a few months, new warts start to develop. This is known as chronic condyloma. To be sure that you are completely healed you should be free from warts for at least twelve months.

Available treatments for condyloma or genital warts to use at home
For treating condyloma, there is a number of medications available without prescription, such as Naturasil, Zymaderm or Wartol. These medications can speed up the healing time and may be very effective for some people.

Medically supervised treatments
Warts can be removed by a gynaecologist or urologist by burning or freezing. The methods are effective, but leave scars and may be painful even though they are conducted under anaesthesia. In extreme cases when warts are obstructing some function of the body, genital warts may be removed surgically. There are effective vaccines available for HPV affecting the mucous membranes of the cervix. A certain kind of these vaccines is also claimed to provide protection against condyloma. Note that vaccination is ineffective for people who are already infected or have had an infection.