Genital warts, or condyloma, are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). This is generally considered to be a sexually transmitted disease in which the virus is passed along from one partner’s genital skin to the other's. Warts can be found on the vulva, cervix, or anus; they are often harmless and can be removed surgically or by chemical (medication) means.
Many HPV infections do not cause symptoms, so a woman who has been exposed may not be aware unless she develops visible warts or has an abnormal pap test. There are other types of HPV, which cause abnormal pap smears. These types are different than those that cause genital warts. The incubation period is usually long but highly variable, and it averages three months, with a range of three weeks to nine months. In addition, HPV can remain latent for decades and it may be impossible to determine from which sexual partner it was acquired. Women with more than one sexual partner or whose partner has had multiple partners are at risk for this disease.
HPV is highly infectious, and it is recommended that a woman’s partner be examined by a urologist even if he appears to have no symptoms. Condoms cannot reliably prevent transmission of this disease, but they should be used. If a woman or her partner is infected, continue to use condoms until all warts are completely resolved, and even up to nine months after the initial appearance of the warts.
Currently, treatment depends upon the location and the extent of the disease and involves both chemical and surgical removal of the condyloma. High cure rates have been demonstrated with cryosurgery, laser therapy, and LEEP (loop electrical excision procedure). Cryosurgery takes four weeks to heal and may result in heavy vaginal discharge for several weeks, while laser therapy may cause some bleeding. Follow-up care is crucial in eradicating the virus, as new warts can appear months after treatment.
Because of the increased incidence of cervical cancer associated with some types of HPV, lifetime annual gynecological exams are essential.