Genital Warts (HPV)

Genital warts are a sign of infection with particular strains of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

What is it?

HPV is a virus that is very prevalent virus in the United States, but not all cases of HPV pose a sexual threat. More than 100 types of HPV have been identified, only 30 of which are spread via sexual contact. An HPV infection can be one of the following types:

  • A harmless strain of HPV.
  • A type of HPV that causes warts on other parts of the body, such as the hands and feet, but not on the genital area.
  • Sexually transmissible HPV that does not cause warts, which has been linked with serious health problems for both men and women, including increased risk of genital cancers.
  • Sexually transmissible HPV that causes warts, which can be an inconvenience, but are not usually connected to serious risks like cancer.

Genital warts are extremely contagious. They are spread through skin-to-skin contact during oral, vaginal, or anal sex with an infected partner. Look closely at your partner’s genitals for signs of this and other sexually transmitted infections before engaging in sexual contact, being aware that some warts are too small to see with the naked eye. Refrain from sexual contact if there are ANY warts in your partner’s the genital area, as even very small warts can put you at high risk.

While condoms have not been confirmed to decrease the spread of HPV, they do decrease the occurrence of complications associated with the virus, including genital cancers and warts. Since many people who are infected with sexually transmissible HPV experience no symptoms, always use a condom. Limiting your number of sexual partners can help decrease your risk as well.


Genital warts are bumps or growths that can vary in appearance. They can be large or small, raised or flat, singular or clustered together, and are usually white or flesh-colored. Burning or itching is not associated with genital warts.

Women: the warts can grow inside and/or outside the female anatomy, appearing on the vulva, inner or outer vagina, cervix, anus or uterus. They can also appear in the area between the inner thigh and genital region.

Men with these strains of HPV may find warts on the tip or shaft of the penis, the scrotum, or around the anus.


If you suspect that you may have genital warts or any other sexually transmitted infection, call Student Health for an immediate appointment at (215) 662-2853. Genital warts can be treated, but there is no cure for HPV, the virus that causes the warts to appear. Consequently, the virus remains in the body and can cause recurrent problems with genital warts. Treatments for genital warts range from creams applied at home to in-office procedures like Cryotherapy, which is the process of freezing off the warts with liquid nitrogen. Even after the warts have been treated, transmission to others is still possible.

“”Human Papillomavirus and Genital Warts,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Institutes of Health Website. May 30, 2003.

HPV: Get the Facts,” American Social Health Association National HPV and Cervical Cancer Prevention Resource Center Website. 2001.