Genital human papillomavirus, or HPV, is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. While over half of all Americans will become infected with HPV at some point, most will not realize it, as the disease typically resolves itself and has no obvious symptoms. If you are pregnant and suspect that you have HPV, knowing the risks that this virus poses to a newborn can help you and your doctor plan for the safe delivery and treatment of your baby.
While you may not have symptoms regularly, the hormonal and physical changes of pregnancy can lead to HPV flare-ups. As this may result in the development of numerous large warts, HPV can cause complications during birth. The presence of large warts can increase the risks associated with a vaginal delivery and make it difficult for doctors to perform an episiotomy, a potentially necessary incision to ease the birthing process. While uncommon, your doctor may recommend a Caesarean section if your HPV symptoms are particularly problematic.
Whether or not you are presenting symptoms, your baby may contract HPV from you as she passes through your birth canal. Transmission between you and your baby is rare, however, and your newborn's immune system typically will clear her body of infection without any treatment. Although the risks of your baby contracting and developing HPV are low, your doctor should test your newborn baby for HPV if you feel concerned for her safety.
If your newborn happens to contract HPV as he is born, and his immune system does not take care of the virus, he may develop neonatal conjunctivitis. Otherwise known as ophthalmia neonatorum in babies, or pink eye more generally, conjunctivitis is an infection on the lining of your baby's eyelids. In newborns, this may lead to swelling of the eyelids and watery, bloody or thick discharge from his eyes anywhere from one day to two weeks after being born. As this condition may lead to eye damage and blindness, you should see your doctor if your baby shows any signs of conjunctivitis.
If your baby contracts HPV while being born, she may develop laryngeal papillomatosis, a condition that results in the formation of warts in her throat and on her voice box. Although extremely rare, this condition may restrict breathing and is potentially life-threatening for a newborn. Treatment for laryngeal papillomatosis involves regular laser surgery to remove any warts that develop and prevent breathing problems. While such problems may not be present at birth, warts can develop in the throat and voice box for up to five years after your baby is born. As such, it is important that you take your baby to a doctor if she experiences any breathing problems during her first few years of life.
- MayoClinic.com: Genital Warts
- BabyCenter: Human Papillomavirus (HPV) During Pregnancy
- Australia and New Zealand HPV Project: A Patient Guide: HPV in Perspective
- PubMed Health: Neonatal Conjunctivitis
- National Institutes of Health: National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders: Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis or Laryngeal Papillomatosis