Genital warts, also known as human papilloma virus or HPV for short is a sexually transmitted viral infection. Marked by the characteristic growths and nodules around the vagina, penis or anus, this condition can be rather unpleasant and uncomfortable to deal with. As an STI, HPV is transmitted from one person to another through various means involving intimate contact, such as skin-to-skin contact, sexual intercourse (vaginal or anal), but also through the use of shared sex toys.
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Statistics provided by Public Health England imply that there are roughly 62.000 new diagnoses of genital warts annually (based on 2016 research), with 27.000 of those cases being reported in women and additional 35.000 in men.
As is the case with many sexually transmitted diseases, human papillomavirus that is the root cause behind genital warts can lay dormant for prolonged periods of time, hardly manifesting any symptoms whatsoever. It is thus very possible to carry the infection without experiencing any symptoms, or at least noticing them with a significant delay. In order to ensure your sexual health, it is very advisable to undergo regular STI tests if you are sexually active, and especially if you have reason to believe that you might have come into sexual contact with someone who might be affected.
Genital warts treatment
At the time of writing this article, there is no known cure for HPV that can completely eliminate the infection, although vaccinations are available. Usually, over the course of two years after one has contracted genital warts, the immune system should be able to clear infection on its own, or at least send it into dormancy.
Treatment for genital warts that is usually prescribed to those affected works by limiting and interfering with the vital cellular processes of the affected cells. Warticon and Condyline, the two most commonly prescribed HPV treatments both contain podophyllotoxin as an active ingredient which is very effective in preventing further replication of cells infected by the virus. Once they become unable to reproduce, the infected cells will die off with time and healthy tissue cells will replace them, causing the symptoms to disappear.
Another commonly used genital warts medicine, Aldara, works in somewhat different way. Instead of affecting the cells, it triggers the release of certain naturally-produced chemicals within the skin that serve as a type of antibodies, mobilising the immune system and enhancing its efficiency in combating the infection and consequently, in reducing the symptoms.
Of all the discussed products were designed with local application in mind – they are directly used on the affected area of the skin. When used properly, genital warts medicines will help improve the condition within days to weeks, depending on the exact type of treatment used, severity of the condition and individual response to treatment.
Genital warts symptoms
The symptoms of genital warts are rather easy to recognize, with the tell-tale sign being the formation of clusters of small growths in the genital area. The growths can sometimes have an appearance of cauliflower.
In affected women, the growths usually appear inside the vagina, on the vulva, cervix, upper thighs or anus, while for men, the most common locations include penis, anus, urethra, scrotum, upper thighs. However, these symptoms do not necessarily occur as soon as one contracts the virus – on the contrary, genital warps can lay dormant for several weeks or even months before the symptoms manifest.
I think I might have genital warts – what should I do?
If you have any reason to suspect you might have been infected by human papillomavirus, the first thing you should do is getting tested in order to confirm or deny that assumption. You can do this by visiting your general practitioner or a local sexual health or GUM clinic, or with an at-home STI testing kit. Genital warts can often be easily diagnosed by physical examination, so it is advisable to see a medical professional in person if this is your first outbreak. For eventual renewals of prescription later on, you can use an online clinic.
Once your diagnosis has been confirmed, you will need to obtain proper treatment. You can do this either via so-called conventional route – making an appointment at the doctor’s and then waiting in line at the pharmacy, or alternatively, you can use an online clinic where a customized medical questionnaire will be presented to you and later used to issue a prescription and send the preferred treatment to your address in a plain, discreet packaging.
Genital warts (HPV) medicines – how do they work?
Since the growths as the tell-tale signs of genital warts are the product of the human papillomavirus infection, treatments for this condition generally aim to limit the activity of the viral infection within the body, reducing the physical symptoms as a consequence. Most commonly prescribed HPV treatments include applied creams and solutions such as Aldara, Condyline and Warticon.
As all other viral infections, genital warts too spread via multiplication of the infected cells. And it is exactly the presence of those infected cells instead of healthy skin cells that causes genital warts.
Aldara is based on the active ingredient called imiquimod, a substance classified as immunomodulator – a pharmaceutical compound that acts within the body by boosting the natural defences, namely the immune system, making it more effective in combating infected cells and curbing the infection.
Condyline and Warticon
Both Condyline and Warticon work by preventing the growth and multiplication of the infected cells. As such, they cannot manage to cure the viral infection, but they instead aim to provide relief from the usual symptoms by suppressing the infection and sending it back into dormancy. These HPV medicines achieve this by relying on their active ingredient called podophyllotoxin which interferes with the ability of the infected cells to sustain themselves and replicate. Without possibility of further growth, the infected cells will begin to die off, subsequently being replaced by healthy skin tissue.
What are the side effects of HPV treatments?
When talking about genital warts treatment, the possible side effects will vary significantly depending on the exact product you might be using. Condyline and Warticon have been known to cause irritation at the site of application with possible inflammation of the foreskin in men. On the other hand, Aldara might cause dizziness, headaches and muscle and joint pain. For more detailed lists of side effects, please visit the medicines’ individual pages or patient information leaflets.