We understand, the thought of having a sexually transmitted infection (STI) is daunting. And that is why we’re here to break the stigma, start a discussion, and empower everyone to get tested. (That’s also why we offer a range of at-home comprehensive STI Test Kits!)
So today, we will be answering some important questions about genital warts.
What are genital warts?
Genital warts are soft, painless, fleshy growths that can occur anywhere around the genitals and anus and may occur alone or in clusters. Genital warts is one of the most common STIs and is caused by infection of the skin cells with certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), namely types 6 and 11. Now, not everyone with these types of HPV will get warts; it’s estimated anywhere between 14% and 64% of people with HPV type 6, or 11 will develop genital warts, so it’s a bit of a complicated little virus! In addition, HPV itself is super common and very infectious; globally, around 10-20% of people are infected with a strain of HPV at this exact moment and it is readily passed onto sexual partners where there is any skin-to-skin contact. Genital warts are usually harmless, although people often do not appreciate their presence!
Do genital warts go away?
Different factors come into play that influence if and when genital warts go away. These factors include the size and number of warts, your immune system, and if any treatment is used.
But, in short, yes! 90% of genital warts will go away on their own, without treatment, within 12–24 months, with up to a third disappearing within just four months.
When treatment is involved, that timeframe may lessen.
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How long do genital warts last?
Genital can last anywhere between 4 and 24 months, but for around 30% of people with genital warts, they will be present for less than 4 months. How long genital warts last depends on their size, number and your immune system. It can also depend on if you have been vaccinated against HPV, if you used any treatment on the warts, your sexual partners and condom use.
Genital warts, even if they have totally disappeared, often come back. This is because although the growths are no longer visible, the HPV virus can persist within the skin cells and can cause new warts at any time. Treatment does not remove the virus itself, only the visible warts caused by it. The virus is usually naturally cleared from the body over time.
Therefore, you might find that genital warts may completely disappear, only to make a reappearance weeks, months or even years later. This may be due to the virus not being cleared from the body or reinfection from a partner or sexual contact.
In fact, it is very common for genital warts to come back; and quite often, they pop up again within three months of disappearing. This indicates that either the HPV infection is still present in the body or that a new infection has occurred.
How to make genital warts go away faster
There are several ways to make genital warts go away faster. These include treatments such as:
- Warticon - a topical cream or solution containing purified extracts of podophyllin which is applied directly to warts and prevents the division and growth of HPV-infected cells
- Aldara - a topical cream containing Imiquimod which is applied to warts to stimulate your immune system to fight the HPV virus
- Cryotherapy (or cold therapy) - using a spray to freeze the warts, gradually removing them over time. This is usually applied in the clinic by a healthcare professional
- Surgical excision - this involves physically removing warts with a scalpel under anaesthetic and is usually only used for problematic or persistent warts
Other ways to make genital warts go away faster include:
- Implementing good hygiene to prevent the spread of the virus to surrounding skin. This includes washing your hands after touching the genitals and keeping the warts clean and dry
- Using condoms to reduce the risk of reinfection
- Avoiding picking or cutting into warts as this could cause them to spread and may create skin irritation and pain, and hinder the warts from resolving naturally
- Avoiding shaving the area as this can cause tiny nicks or tears in the skin, which can make reinfection more likely or hinder healing
Will genital warts come back?
Unfortunately, genital warts quite often come back. And it is impossible to say if and when they might return. Most people clear the HPV virus entirely; however, some people do not, and it is possible to become reinfected with HPV even if you had previously cleared it.
If you have an illness that affects your immune system, it may be more difficult to fight off infections, including HPV, so you may be more likely to get genital warts again in the future. In addition, those who have not been vaccinated against HPV, and men in particular, appear to have higher recurrence rates.
Genital warts often come back even if treatment has been used. Genital warts return in around 20-30% of cases which have been treated. Recurrence rates are notoriously difficult to estimate in clinical studies and vary wildly. For people with warts treated with podophyllotoxin (Warticon), anywhere from 6–100% come back. Recurrence has been reported in 6–26% of cases treated with Imiquimod cream (Aldara), and in those treated with cryotherapy, there is a 10% recurrence rate within 1–3 months, and up to 59% of people have a recurrence within 12 months after clearing the warts completely.
There is very little you can do to stop warts from coming back, but one simple lifestyle change that may help is quitting smoking. A 2009 study showed that penis owners who smoke were 23% more likely than non-smokers to have had genital warts. Although no concrete evidence exists that stopping smoking reduces the recurrence of warts, it’s an all-round positive step toward a healthier you!
All in all, having genital warts is not the end of the world; they are super common and generally harmless. Genital warts do go away on their own and may go away faster with treatment and simple measures. Genital warts often come back and are easily transmitted between sexual partners.
We always promote safe sex and doing things that are good for your sexual health. In this case, that would be using condoms, getting tested for common STIs regularly, and being aware of the signs, symptoms and significance of different STIs.
The choice is always yours, of course, and we wish you all kinds of safe and pleasurable sexual activities, solo or with a partner. We’re here for you and your STI-testing needs! Why not try our quiz to see which test kit is right for you?