Genital warts cost the NHS in England almost £17m a year, indicates Health Protection Agency research and published online in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections.
The authors also suggest that a large proportion of the cases and costs of genital warts could be prevented by use of the quadrivalent human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.
They base their calculations on the number of cases of genital warts seen in GP surgeries, sexual health (genitourinary medicine or GUM) clinics, and in hospitals, using data for 2008.
When the costs of consultation and treatment time in all these locations were collated and analysed, the results indicated that there were around 149,000 cases of genital warts in England in 2008, made up of 80,500 new and just over 68,000 recurrent cases.
Three out of four cases were managed only in GUM clinics and a further one in five were seen by a GP and subsequently referred to a GUM clinic. The remaining 5% were cared for by a GP only. Hospital care was given to 1% of cases.
The study found that the average cost of each case, including general practice, GUM clinic, and hospital care, came to £113 in 2008.
Sexual health screens are offered to patients with genital warts attending GUM clinics in England. These would have cost an additional £7.8m and provided benefits relating to other sexually transmitted infections not included in this study.
The vaccine currently used in the UK's HPV immunisation programme targets HPV 16 and 18, which cause over 70% of cervical cancer cases.
Vaccination against HPV has been routinely offered to 12 to 13 year old girls in the UK since 2008. Girls up to the age of 18 were also offered the jab in a catch-up campaign. Coverage among 12-13 year olds is over 80%, and over 50% among the catch-up group.
The authors suggest that a large proportion of the cases and costs of genital warts could be prevented by use of the quadrivalent HPV vaccine, which targets HPV 6 and 11 - the cause of most genital warts - as well as HPV 16 and 18.
"Hopefully, this will now include vaccinating males, too! Sad there is no mention of success in preventing other HPV related cancers: throat, rectum, penis, and the ways these are relatively "hidden", espcially in males and extra vulnerable people: those with HIV disease. The eventual promotion and supply of the quadrivalent vaccine will be an added opportunity for good sexual health promotion, especially condom advice and provision! Let's hope the opportunites are not lost" - David Evans, London