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Genital warts, or condyloma acuminata, are benign proliferations of the skin and mucosa in the genital and anal area of the body. They are caused by human papillomavirus, mainly transmitted through sexual contact.

Human papilloma virus or HPV has at least 80 known genotypes. Some are responsible for the formation of warts while others are believed to increase the risk of cancer. Vaccines are available for certain types of HPV and the scientist are currently working on creating the vaccines for other types as well.

Even though they involve cell growth, genital warts are benign in nature. They are also fairly common, among the most common sexually-transmitted diseases. It is estimated that 30 million people have suffered from them worldwide. Genital warts are more commonly reported by women than by men, but it is important to realize that men can be carriers of the virus without actually developing the warts, while in women that is rarely the case. The age group that has the highest incidence of genital warts is 15 to 25 years of age.

Symptoms of genital warts

The first symptoms of genital warts appear days or weeks after contracting the virus. The warts are cauliflower-shaped and usually grouped and they can be red, pink or gray. In men, they appear on the penis, scrotum, urethra and rectal area. In women, the warts may develop on the vulva, inside the vagina, on the cervix, uterus and around the rectum.

Genital warts do not necessarily cause any discomfort or pain. Sometimes they are only detected visually, if they are formed on the outside parts of the genitals. However, they may also cause certain symptoms and disturbances, such as burning, itching or tingling during urination or sexual intercourse.

Treatment and management

The treatment for genital warts aims primarily to destroy the actual warts, since there is no definitive cure for the virus that causes them. A person who has genital warts can have them removed but in most cases the virus will remain in the body for life. Even if the lesions do not appear again, the person will be able to pass the virus to others, which is why it is important to use protection during sexual relations.

As for the elimination of the warts, it can be done using laser technology or using burning or freezing with acids and caustic substances.

There are also topical drugs, usually antiviral ones, that can be used over an extended period of time to reduce or destroy completely the warts. Some of the topical drugs, which may come in form of gels or creams, include podophyllotoxin, fluorouracil, imiquimod and sinecatechins.

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