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 is a sexually transmitted infection that causes wart growths in the genitals, although some people carry the disease and do not have any outward symptoms. They can look like blisters or warts. Skin tags can be confused with genital warts, 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. Genital warts are caused by certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the most common of all STIs. Not all HPV infections cause genital warts, though. Some strains cause warts, while others can cause cancer in both men and women. Genital warts are different to herpes, a common infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (known as HSV). It causes painful blisters on the genitals and the surrounding areas.
How are genital warts transmitted?
Genital warts are transmitted through direct intimate contact and sexual intercourse (vaginal, anal) with an infected partner. Even if someone with genital warts 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, or abstain.
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. It does depend whether you already have genital warts, or whether you contract it during the pregnancy and at what stage. While HPV normally doesn’t affect you or your unborn child, your doctor or midwife will want to check for any abnormalities during your pregnancy. Because so many cells are growing and multiplying during pregnancy, your treatment will involve watching out for any unusual growth or other changes. Additionally, some women develop larger genital warts than usual while they’re pregnant.
On the whole, having genital warts won’t typically affect your pregnancy. If the warts are larger than usual they can become uncomfortable, painful and may bleed during vaginal delivery. In some rare cases, genital warts can be passed on to your baby. In these cases, your baby will usually develop warts in their mouth or throat several weeks after birth. The strains of HPV that cause genital warts haven’t been shown to increase the risk of miscarriage or problems with delivery.
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
There is no cure for genital warts, only ease of symptoms when you have an outbreak. You shouldn’t take over the counter remedies, as they have not been researched on for use during pregnancy. If they are large and painful, it is possible to have them removed in pregnancy prior to delivery. This can be done by:
- freezing the warts with liquid nitrogen
- surgically excising the warts
- using laser treatment to burn off the warts
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.
Disclosure: collaborative post. Not intended to replace medical advice.