According to a strange mixture of fairy and old wives’ tales, frogs are the culprits behind warts (though if you kiss the right one, he may turn into a prince -- so, possibly worth the risk?). In real life, of course, we know that frogs don’t cause warts. Unfortunately, princes -- or rather, the humans we kiss -- CAN give us warts. And not the type that are on the bottom of your little toe, either.
Genital Warts are a sexually transmitted disease caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) -- our modern-day frog. There are over 40 different strains of HPV that affect the genitals and several are closely linked with cervical cancer in women.
In the past decade, vaccinations against many strains of HPV have become available for young women -- a tremendous step towards reducing the transmission of this STD, though not an immunization that offers full protection against cervical cancer OR genital warts.
Because there are so many strains of HPV and because boys are not yet encouraged to also get the vaccine (despite the fact that they often unknowingly pass the disease to a partner) it is simply one preventive step among others.
“Yikes!” you are saying. “I don’t want to kiss this frog! How will I know if the prince/princess I am kissing has HPV?”
Unfortunately, most men and women don’t present with any symptoms of genital warts -- at least not signs that are visible to the naked eye. When a woman has genital warts inside her cervix, they are flat and white -- not raised bumps the way we often picture warts -- making them very hard to see without assistance (though in some cases, they multiply and look like cauliflower-shaped clusters).
For the minority of people who do experience symptoms, they are vague or associated with a variety of ailments: pain or bleeding during sex, itching of the genitals, and small swellings near your genitals (uncommon).
If you notice these symptoms, speak with your care provider. Especially because of the close association between cervical cancer and HPV, it is important to address concerns sooner, rather than later.
Furthermore, because HPV and genital warts are almost always asymptomatic, it is even more important that women receive their annual Pap smear. A Pap smear allows your provider to test for strains of HPV, inspect your cervix and vaginal walls for any discoloration (that may indicate warts) and catch anything out of the ordinary before it becomes more complicated.
Left untreated, genital warts and HPV (as stated earlier) may cause certain cancers, as well as complications of pregnancy when the STD is passed to the fetus. Genital warts can be treated by your doctor in several ways (topical creams or surgery) though even after treatment it is possible to pass HPV on to a partner.
In fact, almost half of all sexually active women will be infected with HPV! This is why prevention is so important.
So -- as with all STDs -- here are some preventive techniques you can use:
1. Get all 3 rounds of the Gardasil vaccine against HPV.
2. Use a condom when you are sexually active.
3. Communicate clearly and honestly with your partner about whether he/she has been tested, diagnosed or treated for genital warts or HPV in the past.
4. Speak with your doctor if you notice any changes in the appearance and sensations in your genitals, and schedule regular check-ups and Pap smears -- even if you don’t think anything is wrong!
5. Remember -- kissing frogs might be fun, but often not worth the trouble ... Be an activated, empowered, independent female who can protect and care for yourself and that is all the fairy tale that you need!
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (Jan 2011.) “Genital Warts: Sexually Transmitted Disease Treatment Guidelines 2010.” Division of STD Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/std/treatment/2010/genital-warts.htm
Mayo Clinic Staff. (Feb 2011.) “Genital Warts.” Diseases and Conditions. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/genital-warts/DS00087
PubMed Health. (Dec 2010.) “Genital Warts.” ADAM Inc. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001889/
Reviewed September 13, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith