Genital warts (HPV)

Genital warts are small lumps that usually grow in and around the genitals. They can be a range of shapes and sizes and can resemble a flat or lumpy wart. They may be small or large, one or many, or may be so small that they are not visible by the naked eye.

Summary

Human Papilloma viruses (HPV) are a group of very common sexually transmitted viruses. Most people are infected with HPV at some time in their lives and have no symptoms. There are many types of HPV. Some high-risk types of HPV may cause abnormal cell changes of the cervix (which can lead to cervical cancer years later), the anus, vulva, or throat in women. In men, these types can cause cellularchanges in the penis, anus, or throat. Low-risk types of HPV infect the genital area and can cause warts.

Genital HPV is usually acquired by direct skin-on-skin contact with someone who has HPV during sexual contact or by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

In rare cases, the virus can be passed on to a baby when a woman with HPV gives birth.

If you have the virus, but have no symptoms, you can still spread the virus through skin contact.

The HPV vaccine Gardasil protects against the most common types of HPV that cause genital warts and cervical cancer. Refer to the Prevention tab for more information.


Find your nearest sexual health clinic

There are sexual health clinics all over New Zealand. Find a sexual health clinic near you.

Symptoms

Most people who are sexually active will carry genital HPV at some stage of their lifetime. Most people who come in contact with HPV will not develop genital warts. If you do develop warts, it could happen months or even years after you first came into contact with the virus.

Even though most people with the virus don’t have visible warts, they can still pass on the virus.

Genital warts appear as fleshy bumps or growths found on and around the genital area or around the anus.

Genital warts are usually painless, although in rare cases they can become itchy, inflamed and cause bleeding.

Treatment

Treatments will remove the warts, but not get rid of the virus. The warts may appear again in the future.

Treatment is optional as most genital warts will clear up over time, but they can be uncomfortable and unsightly.

The range of treatments available that work well include cryotherapy (freezing) the warts, applying creams or liquids, laser treatment, and surgery. 

For more information and advice about treatment, please visit a health specialist. Any of the options below will be able to help you.

  • Sexual health clinic
  • Family Planning Centre
  • School nurse
  • Your doctor

Prevention

Vaccination against HPV is the most effective means of prevention.

Gardasil is the vaccine currently used in New Zealand to protect boys and girls from HPV. It's important to complete the full vaccine course of two (for those aged 9 to 14) or three (for those aged 15 and older) doses before coming into contact with the virus – that is, before becoming sexually active.

Children and young people aged from 9 to 26 inclusive are eligible to participate in New Zealand's HPV immunisation programme for free.

HPV vaccine is also available for purchase for those aged 27 and older. Talk to your doctor if you're interested in getting immunised. Three doses will cost about $500.

Using condoms during sex can help prevent the spread of the virus.

Making a decision about immunisation

Risks associated with HPV infection

  • Every year in New Zealand, about 160 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and about 50 women die from cervical cancer.

  • Chronic infection with HPV 16 and 18 and other high-risk types lead to an abnormal cervical smear test and if not treated can lead to cervical cancer.
  • HPV types 16 and 18 cause around 70 percent of cervical cancers.

Risks associated with the vaccine

  • No severe side effects were seen in large clinical trials.
  • The HPV immunisation section has further information about the vaccine.

Immunisation is your choice. If you have questions, talk to your doctor or practice nurse or call the Immunisation Advisory Centre free helpline 0800 IMMUNE (0800 466 863). You can also find out more in the HPV Vaccine school consent form.


Find out more from the Ministry

HPV immunisation programme – Information about the HPV immunisation programme and HPV vaccine, including Q&As.

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