Genital Warts

Are genital warts contagious?

Not all HPV infections create symptoms. But here’s what to know about preventing warts from spreading, including how to treat them with prescription medication.
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Key Points

  • Genital warts are caused by two strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). This virus spreads by sexual contact.
  • Not everyone develops warts as a result. But yes—the virus that causes warts is contagious.
  • Most wart treatments are topical medications like creams and ointments.

In case you missed it, a new study out of Scotland found no cases of cervical cancer in those who had gotten the HPV vaccine before they were 14. That’s huge news! Since it was launched in 2006, cancers and warts caused by HPV have dropped by almost 90% in teenage girls and over 80% in young adults! Despite an increase in vaccine skepticism, that’s a lot to celebrate!

But what about those of us who didn’t get the vaccine? HPV is still one of the most common sexually transmitted infections. And it can spread to cause serious problems if left undetected.

Read on to learn about how genital warts spread. Plus, how Dr. B can help treat these itchy, burning bumps with prescription medication—online!

What are genital warts?

Genital warts are an infection caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Of the more than 150 strains of HPV, only 40 or so cause infections in the genital area. HPV strain types 6 and 11 cause warts. Twelve high-risk types cause cervical cancer.

HPV infections usually spread via vaginal or oral sex. Around the vagina or on the penis, they can appear as small flesh-colored (brown or pink) bumps, sores or clusters of warts that look like cauliflower.

Are warts a common sexually transmitted infection?

Yes, genital warts are a common sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Most sexually active people will become exposed to HPV—the virus that causes warts—at least once in their lifetime. HPV is the most common STI, affecting about 40% of people who’ve had at least one sexual partner. Around 1 in 100 sexually active adults in the US have genital warts at any given time.

Are genital warts contagious?

The human papillomavirus is passed on through skin-to-skin contact, most often during vaginal or anal sex. So yes—genital warts are contagious.

Many strains of HPV don’t cause symptoms—and the virus can spread even when no symptoms are present. That means sexual partners may not know they have HPV and are at risk of spreading it to others if they don’t use barrier methods during sex (like condoms).

You can also have HPV for months—or years—without developing symptoms. So if you have multiple sexual partners over time, there may not be an easy way to know who first infected you or who you’ve then infected.

How do doctors diagnose genital warts?

Some people with vaginas may find out they have HPV if they have an abnormal Pap smear test result. Others will only know if they develop warts in their genital area.

Because they’re visually distinctive, physicians will often diagnose genital warts by sight alone.

The HPV strains that cause warts are considered low risk because they (generally) do not lead to cancer. So it’s common for physicians to not do further tests once they’ve spotted the warts. But if you’re immunocompromised, your provider may also perform a biopsy on the warts just to make sure they won’t cause further problems.

How do you treat genital warts?

Because it’s a virus, there is no one treatment for HPV. For many people, HPV goes away on its own once their immune system has countered the virus—but it can take up to two years to do so. Others need antiviral medications to help their immune system fight specific strains.

Most genital warts will not go away on their own. They often get worse, growing in size or quantity the longer they’re left alone.

Common genital wart treatments include topical medicines like Podofilox (generic Condylox), Sinecatechins (generic Veregen) and Imiquimod cream prescriptions. These treatments remove the warts by killing diseased cells so the external skin growths die off.

How long it takes to heal the warts varies by your body’s reaction to the specific treatment. But in one study, almost 45% of those who took Imiquimod were clear in eight weeks and nearly 70% in twelve weeks.

If you have larger or medication-resistant warts, your provider may have to perform a procedure using freezing, cutting, electrocautery or laser to remove individual warts or clusters.

Banner advertising Dr. B's services for genital warts treatments

Can I get genital wart treatment online?

Yes! Start a discreet $15 online consultation with Dr. B—no video appointment required.

Take a short health assessment, and we’ll connect you with a licensed provider and show you available prescription treatments. We’ll also show you the cost of warts treatment at pharmacies in your area.

If appropriate, the provider will send the prescription of your choice to the pharmacy of your choice. Treating genital warts does not equal treating HPV. So reduce the risk of passing HPV to others by using barrier methods during sex, like condoms. And if you have any other symptoms, check in with an in-person provider.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2022). Genital HPV infection basic fact sheet.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2021). Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination: what everyone should know.

Edwards, L., et al. (1998). Self-administered topical 5% Imiquimod cream for external anogenital warts. Arch Dermatology Institute.

Leslie S.W., et al. (2023). Genital warts. StatPearls Publishing.

Marellia, Annalisa. (2024). HPV vaccine study finds zero cases of cervical cancer among women vaccinated before age 14. StatNews.

The Mayo Clinic. Genital warts.

National Cancer Institute. (2023). HPV and cancer.

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