There are some things we just don’t like to talk about being British, but we really should. If you have ever had genital warts, also known as genital herpes, you may feel embarrassed at bringing it up when you first get pregnant and go for your initial consultation with your midwife, but let me reassure you now, it’s quite common, and it’s important to have an open discussion so you can get the best care and treatment throughout your pregnancy. In this post, I’ll be explaining how and why you can get genital warts, treatment options, and how your pregnancy can be affected.
What are genital warts?
Genital warts or herpes is a common infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (known as HSV). It causes painful blisters on the genitals and the surrounding areas. They can look like blisters or warts. Skin tags can be confused with HSV, so if you’re not sure, a simple trip to the GP can help you with a diagnosis. There are also specialist sexual health clinics that can check for you if you’d rather it be more anonymous. Nobody will judge you, they just want to help and advise you, and treat as necessary.
How are genital warts transmitted?
The Herpes virus is transmitted through direct intimate contact and sexual intercourse (vaginal, anal, oral) with an infected partner. Even if someone with genital herpes doesn’t have any symptoms, it is possible for them to pass the condition on to their sexual partner. At least eight out of 10 people who carry the virus are not aware they have been infected because there are often few or no initial symptoms. It is highly contagious. If you think or know you have them, it’s important to use a barrier method of contraception (condom) to prevent passing them on during an outbreak.
Once you have them, it is a chronic (long term) condition, you get more outbreaks initially, the average rate of recurrence after the initial infection is four to five times in the first two years after being infected. However, over time, it tends to become active less frequently and each outbreak becomes less severe. The best way to avoid getting them is to use condoms whilst having sex (although that isn’t foolproof), and stick to the same sexual partner. As I’ve said above, 8 out of 10 people who carry the virus aren’t aware they have been infected, so they could be unknowingly passing it on. Due to the nature of how they are passed on, genital warts are known as a sexually transmitted infection (STI). If you have an outbreak, it is best to avoid sexual contact totally, and then use condoms once the outbreak has cleared.
Genital warts and pregnancy
What about when you want to try for a baby though? If you haven’t got an active outbreak then the risk of passing them to your partner is low. There are some indications for the pregnancy with Herpes. It does depend whether you already have the virus, or whether you contract it during the pregnancy and at what stage. Most women who have Herpes already at the time of pregnancy will have antibodies present which are passed on to the baby, so they won’t get infected, and most will have a normal healthy baby and a vaginal birth.
If you have active sores at the time of going into labour, you may be offered a caesarean section, to prevent the infection being passed on to the baby at birth. If you become infected with HSV during the first three months of the pregnancy, there’s a slight increased risk of miscarriage, and a risk you may pass on the infection to the baby. However, if you are infected with HSV in the last 6 weeks of pregnancy, there’s an increased risk of passing the infection on, and you may need a caesarean section.
Treatment of genital warts in pregnancy
If you were infected prior to pregnancy but have no active outbreaks during the pregnancy you won’t need any treatment. Once there are a number of outbreaks you may be treated with aciclovir from 36 weeks until birth. If you contract the virus during pregnancy you will be treated with aciclovir (an antiviral medicine). As mentioned above, if you have active sores at the time of labour, or contract the virus in the last trimester of pregnancy (28 weeks plus), you may be offered a caesearean section.
Should the baby becomes infected with the virus, it can be really dangerous for them. They may just develop sores around their mouth and eyes, which clear up fairly quickly, but as newborns’ immune system is weak, the virus could spread to their organs, proving fatal in a third of cases.
If you think you may have or had genital warts before or during your pregnancy, it is therefore really important you tell your midwife or doctor so they can be prepared and come up with a treatment plan as needed, it won’t affect how you are treated as a new mother or as a family.
References: NHS UK
Disclosure: collaborative post. Not intended to replace medical advice.
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