Are HPV and genital warts the same thing?

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[.highlighted] Q: Dear Teal, [.highlighted] I’m confused — are HPV and genital warts the same thing?

A: Good question; it can definitely get a little confusing! In short, genital warts are caused by HPV, but HPV does not always cause genital warts. Let’s dive in.

First, a quick refresher: human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of viruses, some of which are spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. About 40 types of HPV are sexually transmitted and can affect your genital area. Sexually transmitted HPV falls into low-risk and high-risk groups. High-risk HPV (hrHPV) is what a cervical cancer screening tests for.

Genital warts are usually caused by low-risk types of HPV (which do not usually cause cancer). Genital warts present as a small bump or group of bumps on or around the genitals or anus. These bumps are typically painless, but can be painful or cause bleeding if irritated. For some individuals, they can also itch or make it painful to urinate.

The best way to prevent all types of HPV, including genital warts, is to get the HPV vaccine (if eligible), have protected sex*, and get screened for HPV (for women with a cervix) so you don’t unknowingly pass the virus onto a sexual partner.

*It is important to note that unlike some sexually transmitted viruses, HPV can spread simply through skin to skin contact, meaning no exchange of bodily fluids is needed to spread the virus from one person to another. This contributes to the high prevalence of the virus in sexually active adults.

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Deepa Thakor, MD
Primary Care Physician

Dr. Thakor, MD, is a board-certified family medicine physician with the American Board of Family Medicine.