Genital warts: A predominant Sexually Transmitted Disease
World AIDS Day on December 1st marks the start of the month of awareness on all Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs). Unfortunately, however, in the past few years, public health policies focus only on AIDS. This is why the increase of STDs in Greece has passed unnoticed and warts are now a predominant infection.
More specifically, according to data by Athens Naval Hospital and “Andreas Syggros” Hospital, the number of patients who presented with warts has doubled during 2006-2011, despite the fact that a vaccine against Human papillomavirus (HPV) is available to the public.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases, as their name suggests, are transmitted through sexual activity. I.e., through contact of the skin or mucosa of the two partners or through exchange of fluids such as sperm, blood and vaginal discharge. Apart from warts and AIDS, syphilis, blennorrhoea, genital herpes, chlamydia and hepatitis B and C are also classified as STDs.
“If one of the two sexual partners is diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease, then both partners must receive treatment. It is definite that one partner has infected the other. However, it is possible that the infection was pre-existing and acquired from a previous partner. Given the chance, we should point out that it is at least irresponsible if not hazardous to tell our patients that they were infected through different ways of contact e.g. by touching the toilet seat – trying to sugarcoat the situation and avoid quarrels between the partners, accusations of infidelity etc.”, explains Dr Harry C. Hiniadis, Obstetrician –Gynaecologist specialised in IVF and Laparoscopy, associate in the IVF unit at MITERA Maternity Hospital (http://www.hiniadis.com).
On the other hand, the fact that the cases of warts doubled during the years 2006-2011 is a just cause for concern among men and women, since some strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), which has been inculpated for cervical cancer, are the cause of the most common STD.
“Warts develop as protrusions of the skin with modified architecture. They may develop singly or in clusters and look like small pimples or, more often, like a tiny cauliflower. Most of the time, they are flesh-coloured or slightly whitish. They do not cause itchiness, pain or any burning sensation. Quite often, when warts are very small in size, they cannot be seen with a naked eye and are referred to as “subclinical lesions”. In these cases, patients may not be aware that they have HPV. The types of viruses that cause warts are not associated with cancer and are actually harmful. Their presence is simply a sign of the infection” points out Dr. Hiniadis.
In women, warts develop more often on the vulva, vagina, anal and groin area, and rarely in the cervix. In men, they are seen mostly on the penis, scrotum, anal and groin area.
“Some times it is difficult to tell the difference between a wart and a normal change in the genital area. However, if a woman is worried that she might have warts or be exposed to HPV, she must see her gynaecologist. Biopsies are not always necessary in diagnosing warts. It is, although, recommended when the lesion has unusual features or is considered suspicious. Moreover, there is no clinically available blood test for identifying HPV” adds the doctor.
How are warts treated?
According to Dr. Harry H. Hiniadis, Obstetrician & Gynaecologist , “although there is no medical treatment for removing HPV; there are options available for symptom management. The aim of each treatment is to eliminate warts thus allowing the doctor to alleviate symptoms. Some treatments are provided in office settings or at the hospital, such as electrocauterization (burning off warts with diathermy) and laser excision (using intense light to destroy large or excessive warts). Other treatments involve the use of creams and can be done at home for a few weeks”.
How can you minimize the risk of developing warts?
The only way you can reduce this risk is by abstaining from any sexual activity or having sexual contact with one partner only.
“People who have several sexual partners are in greater risk of developing any type of STD. If a person has wart symptoms, it is wiser to abstain from all sexual activity until warts are removed. When used correctly, condoms may help and offer some protection, but only to the part of the skin that is covered and still protection is not 100%. Spermicide foam, cream or jelly etc. have not proved effective in blocking HPV and can cause microscopic abrasions that will make STD transmission easier. Finally, it should be noted that when a person is infected with an HPV strain, he or she may also get infected with a different HPV type through sexual contact with a new partner”, points out Dr. Hiniadis.
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