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Human Papillomavirus and Pregnancy: Can HPV be passed from mother to child?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI), with the highest rate in Africa, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. HPV can be passed from one person to another through vaginal, anal, or oral sex or skin-to-skin sexual contact. Anyone who’s exposed to HPV during sex can be infected, but is it possible for someone to pass it to their unborn child? This article explains the potential risks associated with HPV and fertility, conception, and pregnancy.

The majority of people infected previously with HPV have no more difficulties with pregnancy than other people. If you have ever had genital condyloma (genital warts), tell your OB-GYN. If you currently have genital warts, they can be removed before labor to prevent bleeding during delivery.

Some studies have shown that there’s a greater risk of miscarriage and preterm delivery in people diagnosed with HPV who have had significant cervical tissue removed to prevent cervical cancer from developing. A history of HPV has not been shown to change labor and delivery processes.

The risk of spreading the virus to a baby during childbirth is relatively low. Nevertheless, current medical literature states that HPV can be passed through the placenta, amniotic fluid, and contact with genital warts.

Medical experts have researched this topic and concluded that if the virus is passed at the time of birth, the baby may have symptoms that appear after several months. The average time is about three months, but it can take as long as 20 months for symptoms (genital warts) to appear.

The treatment of genital warts in infants includes removing them under general anesthesia or applying a topical medication (podophyllin). However, many babies who contract HPV during delivery never become symptomatic because their immune system is strong enough to fight the infection. 

So you might be wondering whether a person might need a C-section if they have HPV. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that a cesarean section can be recommended if large or spread-out warts are blocking the birth canal.

If you are diagnosed with HPV during pregnancy, no additional treatment is needed, unless you have genital warts. Typically, smaller warts don’t have to be removed. Warts can grow in size during pregnancy because of hormonal changes and may need to be removed if they become large enough to block the birth canal or to possibly cause heavy bleeding during delivery.

The best way to prevent getting HPV or spreading HPV to a partner or a baby is by getting the HPV vaccine before being infected. The vaccine does not help if a person has already been infected.

The current recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO) for the HPV vaccine include routine vaccination of all female children starting at age 9–13. For more information about the HPV vaccine, contact your health care provider.

If you have HPV and notice that you’re developing genital warts or they begin to grow rapidly, let your physician know so they can determine if treatment is necessary.

The risk of passing HPV to a baby is considered low. Studies have shown that the time between the water breaking and delivery may be a critical factor in predicting transmission, so your health care provider will monitor this closely. 

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