There are many different strains of HPV. Some types of HPV cause visible genital warts.
Genital warts from HPV are growths or bumps on the skin around the genital area; vulva (the area around the vaginal opening), in or around the vagina or anus, on the cervix, and on the penis, scrotum, groin or thigh. They may be raised or flat warts, single or multiple, small or large. Some HPV warts can cluster together forming a cauliflower-like shape.
Subclinical HPV (invisible to the naked eye) and genital warts are usually spread by direct, skin-to-skin contact during vaginal, anal or oral sex.
Warts on other parts of the body, such as the hands, are caused by different types of HPV. Contact with these warts does not seem to be the cause of genital warts.
Warts may appear within several weeks, or even months, after sexual contact with an infection person, or they may never appear. This makes it hard to know exactly when or from whom you got the virus.
It is thought most subclinical HPV infections are transmitted through sexual intercourse, although they are generally believed to be less contagious than genital warts.
In some cases, it's difficult to know. Sometimes people do not notice warts because they are inside the vagina, or on the cervix, or in the anus. In addition, they are often flesh-coloured and painless. Only rarely do they cause symptoms such as itching, pain, or bleeding.
Sometimes warts will be found during a physical examination. For those with a cervix, an abnormal cervical smear may be the first warning sign that HPV is present, though a cervical smear is not a test for HPV.
You should go to a doctor or clinic if:
Genital warts very rarely cause problems during pregnancy and delivery, but because of changes in the body during pregnancy, warts can grow in size and number. Delivery by caesarean section is not required unless warts are blocking the birth canal, which is extremely uncommon. Rarely, babies exposed to HPV during birth may develop warts in the throat.
If you are pregnant and have genital warts, speak to your health care provider, as some methods of treatment cannot be used during pregnancy.