Genital warts treatment available soon from Webmed Pharmacy

Posted 2 July 2019 in Sexual Health

What are genital warts?

HPV. Source: medicalimages.comGenital warts is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections – in fact, in England, the only STI that is more common is chlamydia. Genital warts are caused by certain strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV), a large group of viruses which mainly affect the skin. Other strains of HPV are responsible for warts and verrucae found on the hands and feet, plane warts which are usually found on the face, and changes in cells which may lead to development of cancer – most commonly of the cervix. (1, 2, 3)

Genital warts can be unsightly, embarrassing and can cause irritating symptoms, including itchiness, inflammation and disruption of flow of urine, depending on the area affected. Fortunately, they are harmless, they don’t lead to any serious conditions such as cancer, and they are not known to affect fertility. There is no cure – once you have caught the virus, you will have it for life. However, it is possible for your body to eventually clear the warts in time, and there are also treatments available to help with this. (1, 4)

How do you catch genital warts?

You don’t need to have penetrative sex to contract genital warts – the skin of your groin area coming into contact with the skin of the groin area of an infected person can be all it takes to pass the virus on. Sharing sex toys can also lead to infection. Using condoms during sexual activity is highly recommended to reduce the chance of transmission, but since genital warts can affect the surrounding areas and upper thighs, infection can still occur. However, don’t forget that condoms are a highly effective barrier against other STIs, so unless you know for sure that you and your partner are clear, you should be using them regardless! (4)

I think I might have genital warts, what can I do?

If you think you might have genital warts, you can visit your GP or a sexual health clinic for a diagnosis. They appear as painless lumps on the vulva, penis, anus or surrounding areas, and can even be found on the upper thighs. The warts can sometimes become itchy and inflamed, and if warts are present inside the urethra (in men or women), the vagina or the anus, this can lead to bleeding from these areas. Warts inside the urethra can also cause urine to flow at an angle. On the other hand, you can carry the virus without ever having shown any symptoms, or symptoms may develop years after exposure. Despite this, you can still pass the virus on to others through sexual contact. If you have a sexual partner who has genital warts, you should visit a sexual health clinic, even if you don’t have any symptoms yourself. (4)

How are genital warts treated?

Treatment for genital warts is prescription only. Don’t use treatments for warts and verrucae, such as salicylic acid gel, found in pharmacies and some shops to treat genital warts – they are not designed for this purpose and will irritate and damage the sensitive skin of your genital area. (1)

Topical treatments (liquids and creams) which can be prescribed to treat genital warts include podophyllotoxin, a liquid that is applied to the warts with an applicator stick. As the name suggests, it is toxic to the warts and works by killing the cells. It is applied in ‘cycles’ of three days followed by four treatment-free days. In most cases, warts will disappear after four or five cycles. (5)

Imiquimod is a cream which is applied to larger warts three times a week and left for six to ten hours before being washed off. It encourages your immune system to fight off the virus that causes the warts. Warts should begin to clear up within a few weeks. (5)

Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) is applied to small, hard genital warts once weekly by a healthcare professional at a genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic. It breaks down proteins in the cells of the warts to kill them. Unlike the other topical treatments, it is safe to use in pregnancy. (5)

Genital warts can also be removed using physical ablation:

  • Cryotherapy is a procedure during which warts are frozen using liquid nitrogen, which can cause a sensation of burning. Once the procedure is finished, the skin can take up to three weeks to heal.

  • Excision is surgical removal of warts, often used for harder warts. Once the warts are removed, the area is stitched together and should heal within three weeks.

  • Electrosurgery involves applying a metal loop to a wart, then using an electric current through the loop to burn the wart. Because this procedure can be so painful, general aesthetic is occasionally used.

  • Laser surgery can be used for hard-to-access warts, such as those in the urethra or anus. A laser is used to burn the warts, and as with electrosurgery, this may be performed under general anaesthetic. The area may be painful for up to four weeks after the procedure. (5)

It is important to avoid sexual activity until the area has fully healed. (5)

Can I buy treatment for genital warts from Webmed Pharmacy?

Treatment for genital warts will be available to buy from Webmed Pharmacy in the near future. You’ll just need to answer a few questions about your symptoms, health and any other conditions so that the doctor can determine whether the treatment is right for you. If so, as with all of our other tests and treatments, your medication will be posted securely to an address of your choice the following day within a one hour time slot!

References

  1. NHS inform. Genital warts: About genital warts [cited 23 June 2019]. Available at: https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/sexual-and-reproductive/genital-warts

  2. Mayo Clinic. HPV infection: Overview [cited 23 June 2019]. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hpv-infection/symptoms-causes/syc-20351596

  3. NHS. Warts and verrucas [cited 23 June 2019]. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/warts-and-verrucas/

  4. NHS. Genital warts [cited 23 June 2019]. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/genital-warts/

  5. NHS inform. Genital warts: Treating genital warts [cited 23 June 2019]. Available at: https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/sexual-and-reproductive/genital-warts#treating-genital-warts

Author
Gabby Gallaher MPharm

Medically reviewed by
Superintendent pharmacist Margaret Hudson BSc(Hons) MRPharmS
2nd July 2019

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