Genital Warts

How long do genital warts last?

Genital warts are caused by HPV strains 6 and 11. Here’s what to know about how long HPV lasts. And how you can treat the warts themselves with prescription medication.
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Key Points

  • Genital warts are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). You can get the virus during sexual activity.
  • Treatments like Podofilox and Imiquimod can be used at home to remove warts.
  • While there’s no permanent cure for warts, most people clear the virus completely in about two years.

Genital warts are a symptom of a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is extremely common—more than 42 million Americans have it. This number is going down every year thanks to the HPV vaccine.

But what should you do if you develop genital warts?

There’s no permanent treatment for the virus that causes genital warts. But there are ways to treat genital warts. Read on for symptoms, duration, prevention and more. Plus, how an online genital warts consultation from Dr. B can help you get convenient—and discreet—care from the comfort of home.

What are genital warts?

There are more than 120 strains of HPV. Some don’t cause any problems. But HPV strains 6 and 11 can cause fleshy, painless bumps on the genital or anal areas.

Some strains of HPV strains can cause cancer. The types that cause warts cause cancer do not. However, it is possible to be infected with more than one kind of HPV at the same time.

Genital warts are spread by skin-to-skin contact, usually during sexual activity—even if you use a condom or dental dam. That’s because the virus lives in the skin, including areas of skin that aren’t usually covered by protective barriers.

Symptoms of genital warts

Genital warts may be found anywhere in the genital or anal region, including the penis, scrotum, anus or vulva. They can also appear inside the vagina.

Warts can appear alone or in clusters. They’re generally painless—but can sometimes itch or cause discomfort. And typically, they’re the only symptom of HPV infection.

Symptoms of genital warts include:

  • Small, flat bumps on the genital or anal areas
  • Widespread, cauliflower-like lesions
  • Bumps that are skin-colored or slightly darker
  • Itching or redness on the warts

How long do genital warts last?

Once you’ve been infected with HPV, it usually takes anywhere from three weeks to eight months before warts show up—but the average is two to three months. This can make it difficult to know where you got it.

Another complicating factor is that only about 10% of infected people ever develop symptoms. That means 9 out of 10 people could have the virus and never know it.

It’s hard to know how long genital warts last. Most people clear the infection without treatment in one or two years. Some people have latent infections their whole lives, which means they have the virus but don’t show symptoms. Others may develop warts that last a long time—unless they get treatment.

How to prevent genital warts

One of the best ways to prevent genital warts is by getting the HPV vaccine. This vaccine is usually offered during well-child visits around age 11.

It’s important to get the vaccine when you’re young. Once you’re exposed to HPV, the vaccine won’t work as well. But if you missed getting vaccinated as a child, talk to your provider. It might provide some protection.

The vaccine protects against nine HPV strains, including the ones that cause genital warts. It also protects against strains that cause penile, vaginal, anal and cervical cancer. The vaccine works extremely well and provides long-lasting protection. In fact, since 2006, rates of infection with HPV strains that cause cancer and warts have dropped 88% among teen girls and 81% among young adult women.

It’s also important to practice safer sex. This includes:

  • Using barrier devices like condoms and dental dams
  • Talking to your partner about their sexual health
  • Seeing your provider regularly about any sexual health concerns
  • Getting tested for STIs if you have more than one partner or have sex with someone who has more than one partner
  • Quitting smoking—smokers are more likely to get genital warts than non-smokers

If you’re worried about genital warts, it’s a good idea to limit your number of sexual partners. Each new sexual contact poses a risk for exposure to HPV and other STIs.

How to prevent future outbreaks

Standard treatment targets the warts—not the virus itself. And even if you follow treatment perfectly, you may still experience an outbreak of warts in the future.

Future outbreak chances are based on factors like:

  • How many times you’re exposed to the virus (so if you keep having unprotected sex with an infected partner, you increase your risk)
  • Your overall immune system health
  • How much of the virus is in your system
  • Whether you’ve been vaccinated against HPV
  • Which type of HPV virus you have

Even if you remove the warts, you can still spread the virus. But the good news is that your body may clear the virus on its own. In fact, up to 90% of people clear the virus in two years.

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Treatment options for genital warts

There are a number of treatment options for genital warts. The right treatment will depend on how many warts you have and where they are on your body.

After your healthcare provider diagnoses genital warts, they can remove the warts through a minor in-office procedure. These procedures are usually very effective—but may cause scarring. Surgery may be necessary for widespread outbreaks or warts that interfere with peeing, pooping or childbirth.

Prescription wart treatments include Sinecatechins ointment, Imiquimod cream and Podofilox gel. These topical medications are applied directly to the skin—a good option for small warts or minor outbreaks.

If you need discreet online treatment for genital warts, Dr. B can help! Start a seamless $15 online health assessment—no video visit required. A licensed medical provider will review your condition within three hours. If appropriate, they’ll send a prescription straight to the pharmacy of your choice.


Karnes, J. B., et al. (2014). Management of external genital warts. American Family Physician.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Genital HPV infection: Basic fact sheet.

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

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

Yanofsky, V. R., et al. (2012). Genital warts: a comprehensive review. The Journal of Clinical and Eesthetic Dermatology.

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