HPV and Pregnancy

In United Stated and most other parts of the world, sexually transmitted infections are fairly common among males and females of reproductive age group. HPV or human papilloma virus is the most frequently reported form of STI that is reported in general population. According to recent estimates, about 75% of all sexually active males and females develop genital HPV infection at some point of their life. Unfortunately, a large percentage of this population never really know about the status of their infection. This is mainly because the infection is usually silent (with no obvious symptoms). In most cases, the infection resolves spontaneously.

A person can contract HPV infection via unprotected anal or vaginal intercourse with an infected partner. The virus can also be transmitted via oral sex, by touching genitals or via genital contact without penetration but the risk is minimal. Read on to learn more about HPV and pregnancy.

What Are the Symptoms of HPV During Pregnancy?

HPV does not present with specific symptoms during pregnancy due to which most people remain unaware of the infection status. Some people may also report warts on scrotum, vagina, penis, labia, anus or cervix that may increase the risk of malignant transformation. There is also a probability that even after specific treatment, the warts may return. HPV has no cure and in most cases infection covers a relapsing remitting course. When it does happen, things can be really tricky regarding HPV and pregnancy.

How Is HPV During Pregnancy Diagnosed?

Genital warts are easily diagnosed via laboratory testing (mainly serological examinations). External warts that may erupt on the skin around vaginal opening have characteristic appearance that can easily be identified by the doctor during careful physical examination and in many cases does not even require any testing. In some rare cases, a biopsy is done to confirm vaginal or external lesions.

For the detection of cervical HPV infection, healthcare providers usually advise Pap smear (that involves visualization of cervical lining via instruments and scraping of lining cells in case a wart or other visible lesion is seen). In most cases, a colposcopy is also suggested for further evaluation. The doctor will examine the cervix by using special instruments for better assessment and diagnostic credibility. Vinegar (Acetic acid) is also applied over cervix to clear abnormal areas. The doctor can also extract a tissue from cervix to determine the presence of HPV infection or a pre-cancer or cancerous lesion in a susceptible patient.

How Is HPV During Pregnancy Treated?

  • During pregnancy if the test came out positive, your doctor will try to assess the cervical lining to confirm the presence or absence of malignant cells.
  • If a pregnant mother has genital warts, the doctor will examine whether the warts are increasing in size or not. Large warts may bleed or complicate labor.
  • Depending on the severity of warts the doctor may suggest delaying the therapy until childbirth. However, if the warts are large enough and are causing vaginal obstruction various treatment modalities can be employed to remove the warts before childbirth (such as surgery, with electric cautery or chemically).

Will My Baby Get the Virus from Me?

The risk of viral transmission to the baby during childbirth is very low. If due to any reason the baby develops infection with HPV and the baby is immune-competent, the infection will resolve spontaneously within a few days. It is observed that babies born to HPV positive mothers (with active genital warts) do not develop complications associated with HPV. In some rare cases however, babies born to mothers with genital warts develop warts in throat. This condition is very serious and is referred to as respiratory papillomatosis. For optimal management, the baby may require repeated laser therapy to prevent the warts from blocking the breathing passageways.

What If I  Have HPV and Want to Get Pregnant? 

Before trying to conceive make sure you are not infected with any sexually transmitted infection. It is important to finish the treatment before trying to conceive baby. You can deal the HPV before conception in the following ways:

  • Recommend your partner to get HPV vaccine that is protective against genital herpes.
  • HPV infected patients can receive short, simple and effective therapy (with only 3 injections).
  • For stubborn genital warts and other active lesions, healthcare providers usually advise cautery and other modes of therapy.
  • If HPV precancerous cells are detected in Pap smear then your doctor will closely examine the progress of cancer activity during pregnancy. It is observed that during pregnancy the cancerous activity increases under the influence of pregnancy hormones. However, as soon as the baby is born, the lesions usually shrink.

Rarely it is seen that genital warts may block the cervical outlet that may make the vaginal birth challenging.

Will Having HPV Affect My Chances of Getting Pregnant?

Most people who are going to have babies are sure to be concerned about the safety issuse concerning HPV and pregnancy. HPV itself shouldn’t affect the ability of a female to get pregnant. In fact research suggests that there is no connection between premature delivery and maternal HPV status. Other pregnancy related complications such as miscarriage or pre-term delivery is also not associated with HPV.

Rarely, pregnant woman infected with HPV also develop cancerous or precancerous lesions in cervix that may further affect the fertility and ability to conceive.

How to Prevent HPV

There are several preventive strategies that a person can adopt to minimize the risk of contracting HPV. Ideal intervention is to get vaccination against HPV that are given in 3 doses. If a person is sexually active then

  • Using latex condoms during sex can prevent chances of catching HPV
  • Maintaining a monogamous relationship

Watch a video to learn more frequently asked questions on HPV so that you know more about hpv and pregnancy: