You’ve likely heard of genital warts, and you may believe that you have them. When people are diagnosed with genital warts, one of the first question many ask is “are genital warts contagious?”
You are not alone if you do have genital warts – millions of new cases occur each year in the U.S. Warts are soft growths in the genital area that may appear in a cluster or as a single wart. It is possible to treat and remove genital warts that appear, but you may still be able to spread them. Here is what you need to know about the contagiousness of genital warts.
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Are Genital Warts Contagious?
The fact is that the virus that causes the problem is contagious, and nearly all adults will contract the virus. Not all people will develop genital warts, however. If you are wondering if HPV warts are contagious, the short answer is yes. Both men and women may contract genital warts, and there are nearly 360,000 new cases of them every year.
When you have sex with someone who has genital warts, you can pick up the virus from his or her skin. The virus infects the top couple of layers of the skin, and it may lie dormant there for some time before warts appear. Some people may never develop warts while others may show them weeks or months after the sexual contact. They may be very small, raised or flat shiny white or gray areas.
Warts might appear on:
- Penis shaft,
- Groin area,
- Inside or outside of the anus,
- Inside or outside of the vagina.
You can also contract genital warts on your lips, throat, tongue or mouth if you have performed oral sex on a person who is infected. For more information about genital wart testing, read this article.
When are warts contagious?
Warts are the most contagious when they are present. However, the virus may still be contagious whether or not the warts are visible. Since they are caused by HPV, it is possible for you to spread the virus that causes genital warts even if you do not have outward symptoms of them. Most experts believe that you are much less contagious when you do not have visible warts or after you have had them removed. When you first contract the virus that causes warts, the virus will live in your top skin layers for weeks or months. This means that you can spread the virus even if you do not realize that you have contracted it.
When genital warts do appear, they are more contagious than after they have been treated. The virus is in an active state when it causes warts to grow. If you do not treat a wart, it may spread and become large, forming a cluster that has the appearance of cauliflower. After you have been infected with venereal warts, you will have the virus inside of your body even though your warts have been treated and have disappeared.
People who may develop genital warts include the following:
- People under 30.
- People whose mothers had the infection when they were born.
- Sexually active adults who have had more than 1 partner.
- People who have weaknesses in their immune systems.
Some people only have one instance of warts while others may suffer from recurrences. To learn more about genital wart recurrence, click here.
How long are they contagious?
Several strains of HPV are the culprits causing genital warts. How contagious they are will depend on what strain of HPV you have. Your sexual partner’s predisposition for getting infected will also influence whether or not he or she contracts the wart-causing HPV strain from you. After treatment and removal, some people never have warts reappear again. While the virus may still be inside of your body, many experts believe that you are less likely to spread warts after they have been treated and have disappeared.
In most cases, when 1 sexual partner has HPV, both will end up contracting it. Just because your partner may have the virus does not especially mean that he or she will develop warts. He or she may carry the virus but never develop warts. Others who have one of the strains that cause genital warts may have multiple recurrences throughout their lives. You may be more likely to have a recurrence and to be more contagious if your immune system is weakened by another illness or by stress. You can minimize the risk of spreading the virus by always using latex condoms with every sexual partner that you have.
Around seventy-nine million Americans have a strain of HPV. Almost all sexually active adults will contract HPV sometime in their lives, but not all will contract a strain that causes genital warts. New cases of genital warts happen each year, and there are around 14 million Americans with active cases of genital warts at any one time.
Can you still spread HPV after you get rid of it?
When you have HPV, it is possible to spread it even after you have treated and gotten rid of any warts that you may have developed. It is believed that you are not as contagious when your warts have disappeared and you have gone into remission. You can prevent yourself from spreading HPV or contracting it by always using a condom. However, it is important to understand that areas of the skin that are infected with HPV that are outside of the covered-by-the-condom area may still pass the virus to your sexual partners.
For more information about sex with genital warts, read this article.
Complications of genital warts
One good reason to seek prompt treatment of genital warts is that they can cause complications. Some warts disappear on their own, but others may grow and spread. Some strains of HPV are higher-risk types. These can cause cancer of the cervix, anus, penis or vulva in some cases. In women, warts may also cause complications with childbirth. In some cases, a wart may grow large enough that it is difficult for the walls of the vagina to stretch enough during childbirth. Warts may also make it difficult to urinate in some cases. If you have large warts on your vulva, they may tear and bleed when you are giving birth.
In rare cases, babies may contract genital warts during childbirth from their mothers if their mothers have active warts. The child may develop them in the throat, which may necessitate surgical removal so that the baby’s airway isn’t blocked. Getting annual pap smears is important for all women, especially if they have contracted one of the higher-risk strains of HPV. A routine pap smear may help your doctor to determine if you have any precancerous lesions on your cervix so that they can be promptly removed and won’t develop into cervical cancer.
Genital warts may be embarrassing, but you shouldn’t avoid treatment and removal if you have them. If you learn that you have contracted them, you can have them removed and then practice safe sex with new partners so that you lessen the chance of spreading the virus that causes warts to them. Adopting a healthy lifestyle, lessening stress and quitting smoking may all lessen the contagiousness of your genital warts.