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The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted disease that affects millions of people around the world, but the effects of HPV on pregnancy are extremely rare. Most cases of HPV clear up without ever presenting symptoms. It is quite possible for pregnant woman to have HPV without ever knowing it. Only the strains of HPV that cause warts have been linked in studies to any potential risks to a newborn, and even then, it occurs only in very special circumstances.
HPV is best known as the virus responsible for genital warts. There are, however, many strains of HPV aside from the few that cause genital warts. Most are completely invisible and never present symptoms. Some, however, have been linked to cell changes in the cervix that can lead to cervical cancer. Health practitioners are usually concerned only about the effects of HPV on pregnancy when active cases of genital warts are involved.
During pregnancy, genital warts sometimes grow and spread dramatically. Many experts attribute this to the increased hormones coursing through a woman's body during pregnancy, and others believe the spread in genital warts is because of greater vaginal discharge, which leads to more moisture in the genital area. HPV thrives in moist environments. If the number and size of the warts increase too much, it is likely that a health practitioner will recommend removing the warts. There are many safe ways to remove warts during pregnancy, including searing them off with a special acid, using liquid nitrogen to freeze them off or surgical removal.
If a severe case of genital warts is allowed to multiply unmonitored, it will still pose no danger to a baby until delivery. There are no in utero HPV fetal effects and no risks of mother-to-child transmission with the other strains of HPV and an unborn baby. There also are no risks of transmission if the pregnant woman has a past history of genital warts but no active case. If the woman has an active case of genital warts, her doctors will watch for signs of any of the potential effects of HPV on pregnancy.
During delivery, if genital warts exist in the birth canal, there is an extremely small but present danger of HPV transmission to the infant. This can lead to a condition called recurrent respiratory papillomatosis, in which the HPV creates lesions on the vocal cords and throat of the infant, which can lead to life-threatening breathing difficulties. If there is a chance the child has been exposed to HPV, though, it will be monitored carefully by a specialist throughout its infancy.
Another concern with the presence of genital warts during delivery is the risk posed to the mother if the warts break open and bleed excessively. This is why a health practitioner might recommend a cesarean delivery if the warts are heavily blocking the birth canal. Cesareans are not generally recommended in the majority of genital warts cases unless there are other unrelated complications present. In the vast majority of instances, the effects of HPV on pregnancy cause no harm, and the infants and mothers experience no additional health problems.
HPV or human papillomavirus is very contagious and can be passed from mother to child during childbirth. There is no known cure for human papillomavirus, but adolescents can be vaccinated against some forms of human papillomavirus thought to eventually lead to certain cancers.
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