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How are genital warts transmitted?

How are genital warts transmitted?

Updated on:
September 20, 2021

The different ways genital warts can be transmitted

Genital warts themselves are not transmittable. However, the HPV virus which can lead to genital warts is highly contagious and transmitted by direct surface skin-to-skin contact. 

Unlike other STIs which are often spread by contact with infected fluids (i.e. blood or semen), HPV can be passed by skin contact alone and is not spread through blood or body fluids. Anyone who has had sexual skin-to-skin contact is at risk for HPV infection. 

During sex, small tears, cuts, or abrasions that cause tiny openings in the skin increase the likelihood of HPV transmission. 

Since HPV can live outside of the body for short periods of time, transmission is possible by simply touching something that has come into contact with the virus. Sex toys, hands, fingers, and other body parts that have come into contact with the HPV virus can transmit it when touched.

The majority of genital HPV infections are spread through direct skin-to-skin sexual contact during oral, anal, or vaginal sex. Transmission can occur during penetrative or non-penetrative sexual contact, including:

  • Genital-genital contact
  • Genital-oral contact
  • Genital-anal contact 
  • Anal-oral contact 

Since HPV can live outside of the body for short periods of time, studies also suggest that HPV transmission can potentially occur through genital contact without sex (such as hand-genital contact), but this route is unlikely.

Similarly, other non-sexual forms of transmission may be possible (for example, by touching an object or surface that has come into contact with the virus). However, the effectiveness of HPV transmission through this route is not yet clear. Further research is needed to better understand non-sexual transmission of HPV. 

HPV transmission is possible even when a person shows no symptoms and does not have genital warts. There are steps you can take if you believe you've been exposed to genital warts.

Individuals who are sexually active can potentially contract HPV and develop genital warts, even if they’ve just had one sexual partner. 

Neonatal Transmission:

Very rarely, a pregnant parent with HPV can transmit the virus to their newborn during delivery.


Resources:
https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(18)30655-8/fulltext
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1586/14787210.2014.959497

Reviewed by:
Emeline Mugisha

Emeline’s expertise stems from over a decade of community/public health practice among marginalized communities in the U.S. and abroad, with a clinical focus on HIV and infectious diseases.

Using a social justice lens, she is a fierce advocate for empowerment-based practice, trauma-informed care, and cultivating rest as tools for advancing towards whole-life wellness.

She holds a Master of Science in Nursing and a Master of Public Health from Johns Hopkins University.