- What are the signs and symptoms of HPV during pregnancy?
- Will you be tested for HPV during pregnancy?
- How to treat HPV during pregnancy?
- Can HPV affect pregnancy?
- Can you pass HPV to your baby?
- What if you have HPV and want to get pregnant?
- Can you get pregnant if you have HPV?
- How to prevent HPV?
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) of the reproductive tract. About 75% of sexually active women and men contract HPV at some point in their lives, while some remain undiagnosed as the infection resolves on its own (1).
HPV infection is easily transmitted through unprotected anal or vaginal intercourse with an infected partner. The virus can also be transferred through oral sex and skin-to-skin contact in the genital area. But, can HPV infection affect your chances of getting pregnant or your pregnancy?
What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of HPV During Pregnancy?
Since HPV does not result in any specific symptoms, it is difficult to know the severity or status of the infection. There are over 100 different strains of HPV, but only some cause problems. The high-risk strains can cause cervical cancer, while the low-risk strains are known to cause genital warts (2).
Some people report itchy warts that appear as:
- Flat lesions
- Small bumps with abnormal appearance
- Finger-like tiny projections
These warts develop on the skin near or on the cervix, vagina, vulva, labia, and anus. They are not painful but increase the likeliness of malignant transformations and can also revert after the treatment (3).
Will You Be Tested For HPV During Pregnancy?
Diagnostic tests for HPV are not a part of the routine check-up during pregnancy. However, genital warts can be diagnosed during serological examinations (blood tests which look for antibodies in the blood). The doctor can also identify external warts through careful physical examination. After that, a biopsy is suggested to confirm vaginal lesions.
The doctor will also advise a few other tests to confirm the presence of HPV and possible cancer cells.
Pap smear test involves scraping of the cervical lining cells and examining them under a microscope.
Colposcopy is done for further evaluation and involves the application of vinegar (acetic acid) over the cervix. Vinegar changes the color of the abnormal cells, which are then tested for HPV.
DNA test on a sample of cells from the cervix checks for DNA of HPV to analyze the presence of cancerous cells (4).
If the tests result positive for HPV, the doctor will suggest the necessary course of treatment.
How To Treat HPV During Pregnancy?
Most HPV infections go away on their own. Treatment is required only when there are visible warts and abnormal cervical cells. Treatment options include:
- Cryosurgery: Freezing or destroying warts using liquid nitrogen
- Electrocautery: Burning of warts using electric current (5)
- Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP): Removing abnormal cervical tissue using electrically charged wire loop (6)
- Cone biopsy: Removing a cone-shaped portion from the affected cervical tissue (7)
- Laser therapy: Destroying warts using a laser beam
- Prescription creams: Medicated cream can be applied directly to warts. However, over-use is dangerous (8)
Your doctor will continue to examine the cell changes during your routine prenatal examinations.
Can HPV Affect Pregnancy?
Yes, HPV can affect pregnancy as it increases the estrogen levels in the body. This can lead to an increase in the number and the size of the warts. That said, your doctor may not recommend removing the warts, as that can increase the risk of bleeding and infection.
The treatment for warts is usually scheduled to after the delivery unless the warts are big and are obstructing the vaginal area. They are then removed using chemical treatment or electric current (9).
Can You Pass HPV To Your Baby?
Babies born to mothers having active genital warts will not develop any HPV infections. Even if the baby develops the infection, it will be resolved in a few days as they are immune-competent.
In rare cases, babies can develop warts in the throat; a condition called laryngeal papillomas (respiratory papillomatosis) (10). This is a serious condition and affects the baby’s breathing pattern. Repeated laser therapy can remove the warts and clear the breathing passage (11).
If the warts are blocking the birth canal and making the delivery difficult, your doctor will proceed with a cesarean section. Your doctor will discuss all these risks before deciding on the best course of action during childbirth (12).
What If You Have HPV And Want To Get Pregnant?
Here is what you should do if you are infected with HPV before conception:
- Your partner should get the HPV vaccine, which also protects him from genital herpes (one of the STDs)
- You should check with your doctor about the therapy for HPV (that usually includes three injections against the virus)
- Your doctor would suggest cautery and other therapeutic methods to treat genital warts and any other active lesions
Can You Get Pregnant If You Have HPV?
HPV is not known to have a direct effect on your chances of getting pregnant. The virus cannot affect your ability to conceive. Also, other pregnancy complications such as premature labor and miscarriage are not associated with HPV.
In rare cases, HPV can develop cancerous lesions in the cervical region, which can affect your fertility and conception (13).
How to Prevent HPV?
The following tips can minimize your chances of contracting the HPV infection.
- Use latex condoms every time you have sex. They are likely to reduce the chances of contracting HPV and other STDs. A study showed that those who used condoms during intercourse had 70% fewer chances of becoming infected with HPV (14).
- Stick to a monogamous relationship. Having intercourse with only one partner, and who does not have any obvious warts can reduce the risk of HPV. Sometimes, your partner might not know whether he has HPV and can be contagious without showing any symptoms.
- Get vaccinated before you try to get pregnant. There are three HPV vaccines, of which Gardasil and Gardasil9 are approved for men and women aged between 9 and 26. It offers protection against cervical cancers and genital warts. Another vaccine called Cervarix is recommended for women and offers protection against cervical cancers.
These vaccines are given in three dosages, the second shot two months after the first and third six months after the first. Though the vaccines cannot cure or treat the infection completely, they can protect you from contracting other strains of HPV (15).
Next, we answer a few commonly asked questions about HPV during pregnancy.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can HPV vaccine cause any pregnancy complications?
HPV vaccine will not cause any pregnancy complications or congenital disabilities. They are noninfectious vaccines which fall under a low-risk category (16).
2. Can a man with HPV get a woman pregnant?
HPV causes genital warts, which can decrease the man’s libido and therefore affect his ability to get a woman pregnant.
HPV may not always be a serious condition, but it can create complications in pregnancy and during labor. So, it is important to take adequate precautions and undergo necessary treatment to rule out the possibility of cervical cancer. Talk to your healthcare provider for more details on HPV infection and the possible options in case of high-risk diagnosis.
Enjoy your time with your partner, but remember to be safe too. Have anything to share about HPV during pregnancy? Tell us in the comments section.