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HPV and genital warts

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Up to 70% of sexually active people test positive for HPV in South Africa. There are many different types of HPV and some cause problems such as genital warts and cervical cancer.

How is HPV spread?

HPV is passed on from one person to another through unprotected oral, vaginal, or anal sex. It can live on cells that are on the top of the skin on many body parts, like the vagina, anus, vulva, cervix, penis, mouth, or throat. If you touch an infected person’s skin or body fluids, you are also at risk of infection.

Using condoms can lower your chances of getting HPV but the infection can sometimes infect areas not covered by a condom – so condoms may not fully protect against getting HPV.

HPV and genital warts

HPV can cause you to have warts. Warts are small skin-coloured growths that form on the lips of the vagina, inside the vagina, on the penis and on the anus. They spread from person to person through unprotected sex.

How do I test for warts?

A healthcare provider will be able to tell if you have a wart by examining the growth you have.

How are warts treated?

There are several medicines that treat warts. Your healthcare provider will usually give you lotions to apply a few times a week. Sometimes if you have a very big wart or lots of warts, they may need to be removed. Please visit your closest clinic to help with treatment. Treatment doesn’t always make the warts go away forever or completely cure them. It’s used to make the warts smaller and more comfortable for you, but they can often come back again.

What about warts in pregnancy?

Pregnancy can sometimes make warts worse. Please go to your clinic if you develop warts while pregnant.

Cervical cancer and HPV vaccines

The type of HPV that causes warts is usually not dangerous, other than causing warts. However, HPV is the leading cause of a kind of cancer which is very common in women in South Africa – cervical cancer.

There is an effective HPV vaccine that can help protect girls and women which is now given to all girls in primary school.

In South Africa, there is also a free national screening programme involving a pap smear or test for cervical cancer.

Go to your local clinic for a pap smear if you are over the age of 30 years.

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