Human Papillomavirus (HPV) / Genital warts

What is it?

HPV is the most com­mon STI. There are over 120 dif­fer­ent kinds (or strains’) of it, and in fact, it’s the same virus that caus­es warts on oth­er parts of your body. Only around 30% of HPV strains cause gen­i­tal or anal warts, which are warts on the gen­i­tals or around the anus. Gen­i­tal warts are pain­less bumps that are usu­al­ly pink­ish or grey­ish in col­or. They start out very small but can even­tu­al­ly become large and grow on top of each other.

Of the HPV strains that affect the gen­i­tals, only some are known to cause seri­ous prob­lems, includ­ing almost all cas­es of cer­vi­cal can­cer and most cas­es of can­cer of the anus and penis. Most peo­ple with gen­i­tal warts will not devel­op can­cer from it. A vac­cine is avail­able that can pro­tect an unin­fect­ed per­son from the HPV strains that are most linked to gen­i­tal and anal warts and HPV-relat­ed cancers.

How do I get it?

HPV is one of the most con­ta­gious STIs. It’s trans­mit­ted through skin-to-skin con­tact with the infect­ed area. This means that HPV can be trans­mit­ted even with­out pen­e­tra­tion. Since it’s so easy to pass on the virus with most forms of sex­u­al con­tact, HPV is extreme­ly wide­spread. Some­times the warts only grow inside the vagi­na or anus, where they aren’t vis­i­ble. The result is that many peo­ple get or give gen­i­tal warts unknow­ing­ly. Most peo­ple who have HPV will nev­er even have warts or oth­er symptoms.

What should I be look­ing for?

Warts can appear prac­ti­cal­ly any­where inside or out­side the gen­i­tals (on the vul­va, cervix, vagi­na, penis, scro­tum, anus, or thighs).

If you catch genital/​anal warts, you won’t know you’re infect­ed right away. It can take up to a year for the warts to devel­op. Although most peo­ple with the HPV virus will nev­er have symp­toms, if a bump does appear around your genitals/​anus, then you should go see a doc­tor or nurse prac­ti­tion­er for diagnosis.

How do I get tested?

You need to have symp­toms (bumps/​warts) for the doc­tor or nurse to detect HPV, so go when you have some­thing to show. If you have a cervix, you should also have a year­ly Pap test, whether you have any symp­toms or not. The test checks for abnor­mal cer­vi­cal cells, which are usu­al­ly caused by HPV. If the abnor­mal cells are not treat­ed, they can become cancerous.

Can I get rid of it?

If warts do appear, they can be removed by your health care provider (over a few vis­its) or you can get a pre­scrip­tion for a med­icat­ed cream that will help your body fight them off. It’s also pos­si­ble for your body to nat­u­ral­ly fight them off. Even if genital/​anal warts are gone, you must still keep an eye out for them, because they can come back at a lat­er time.


A vac­cine against HPV – called Gar­dasil®– is avail­able in Cana­da. It involves get­ting three shots of the vac­cine in the arm over a peri­od of sev­er­al months. The vac­cine cov­ers four strains of HPV, which are the most com­mon strains that cause gen­i­tal warts and cer­vi­cal cancer.

Gar­dasil® is approved for use in both females and males aged 9 to 26 years. In Man­i­to­ba it is free for grade 6 girls, and for girls/​women aged 9 to 26 whose care provider feels might be at increased risk of get­ting HPV. Oth­ers may receive the vac­cine, but it must be pre­scribed and pur­chased (for between $450-$525). Talk to your doc­tor or nurse prac­ti­tion­er about your spe­cif­ic needs or check out this web­site for more information.