Let’s talk for a second about genital warts. It's an awkward subject, I know, but it’s also a major concern among sexually-active individuals in this country. Genital warts are caused by certain strains of HPV. We’ve all heard a lot about HPV in recent years, particularly due to the fact that it has been discovered as the leading cause of cervical cancer.
HPV stands for human papillomavirus, and approximately three quarters of sexually active adults will be infected with it at one point or another. Of the over 100 possible strains of HPV, 40 percent are capable of transmitting genital warts, and the most common culprits are HPV-6 and HPV-11. Thankfully, genital warts are categorized as benign lesions – meaning they are non-cancerous sores – so the strains of HPV that cause genital warts are considered to be low-risk.
The strains of HPV that do not lead to genital warts (the remaining 60 percent) can cause warts in other places on the body. For example, HPV-5 and HPV-8 have both been proven to contribute to skin conditions and skin cancer. However, sexually-transmitted HPV usually does not produce any warts or symptoms. Research is currently being done regarding the body’s ability to completely rid itself of an HPV infection.
The main thing to remember about HPV is that scientists are continually researching the pervasive virus and looking for ways to prevent its transmission. That’s good news for those looking to avoid genital warts, or any warts in general! But until a solution is found, there are several things you can do to prevent the development of genital warts as a result of HPV.
First of all, a vaccine has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for men and women between nine and 26 years of age. Known as Gardasil, the vaccine guards against the transmission of the two most common causes of genital warts (HPV-6 and HPV-11) and also provides immunity against types 16 and 18.
Unlike other STDs, HPV is not spread through bodily fluids, but simply genital contact. So the best way to avoid genital warts is to use a condom; hormonal contraceptives will do nothing to protect you. Spermicides are also ineffective at preventing genital warts.
Because genital warts are caused by HPV, it is important to understand the virus fully. Knowing the complete story and taking the proper precautions is the key to preventing genital warts.