There is a lot of confusion surrounding human papillomavirus, or HPV. While most people have heard of STDs like chlamydia, herpes and HIV, HPV is almost never included in the roster of STD/STIs that one should be concerned about. Considering the number of people who have HPV, this should not be the case.
For those who aren’t confident in their knowledge of HPV, here are a few quick facts from the Center for Disease Control:
- It is the most common STI.
- HPV can be spread when there is no signs or symptoms.
- 79 million Americans are infected with HPV, most of them in their late teens and early 20s.
- There is no treatment for the virus itself.
Our desire to avoid discussing STIs means we often fail to properly understand the dangers associated with them. For pregnant women, it can be especially risky to avoid the signs and symptoms of an STI/STD. It’s important that you know that the choices you make during your pregnancy will affect your baby for the rest of his or her life.
Considering that 80% of sexually active women will be infected with one type of HPV in their lives, let’s learn more about the symptoms and risks you may experience during your pregnancy.
Symptoms and transmission
HPV can be contracted by skin-to-skin contact during sexual intercourse with someone who has the virus. One of the bigger dangers with HPV is that you will not experience any symptoms or warning signs until it begins to cause problems. There can be years or decades between when you contract the virus and start to show symptoms.
There are two main types of HPV:
- Low risk. This type does not cause cancer, but can cause genital warts.
- High risk. This type may cause cancer in your cervix or other reproductive organs. Nearly all cases of cervical cancer were caused by an HPV infection.
The only way to prevent HPV is to abstain from sex. Condoms do not necessarily protect against HPV, as there is still skin-to-skin contact even while using condoms perfectly. The more sexual partners you have during your life, the more likely you are to contract HPV.
How does it affect pregnancy?
Any time that you have an infection or other illness during your pregnancy, it has the potential to cause lifelong issues for both you and your baby. One study found that 11% of the babies surveyed had contracted HPV from their mothers. While their immune system typically fights it off, if your child has a compromised immune system, it could become incredibly dangerous. The virus may also be spread during breastfeeding, though this is unlikely.
If you have been diagnosed with HPV, you must tell your doctor if you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant. As your body changes during pregnancy, your cells may change rapidly and increase your cancer risk. If there are any tissue changes, your doctor may choose to avoid treatment until the baby is born to avoid causing premature labor.
Those with low risk HPV may still have issues during pregnancy. Genital warts can create complications during delivery, which could lead to a Caesarean being done. Low risk HPV is also linked to laryngeal papillomatosis, which causes non cancerous growths in the baby’s larynx that must be removed to prevent breathing problems.
Are you concerned that you may have HPV or another STI/STD?
Contact Mosaic Health at 618-451-2002 or schedule an appointment online. We offer free, confidential STI/STD screening and can refer you to a physician if further testing is needed.