At least 50% of sexually active women acquire genital Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infection at some point in their lives. Most who have a genital HPV infection do not know they are infected. The virus lives in the skin or mucous membranes and usually causes no symptoms. Most people who become infected with HPV will not have any symptoms and will clear the infection on their own. Some women get visible genital warts, or have pre-cancerous changes in the cervix.
Genital warts usually appear as soft, moist, pink, or flesh-coloured swellings, usually in the genital area. They can be raised or flat, single or multiple, small or large. They can appear on the vulva, in or around the vagina or anus, or on the cervix. After sexual contact with an infected person, warts may appear within weeks or months, or not at all. Genital warts are diagnosed by visual inspection. Visible warts can be removed by medication applied by the patient, or by treatments performed by their doctor.
There is no “cure” for HPV infection, although in most women the infection goes away on its own. For those women whose HPV infection persists, regular smear tests are essential to ensure that the pre-cancerous changes caused by HPV do not progress to life-threatening cervical cancer.