What is human papillomavirus, HPV?
Each year in the United States, about 19 million individuals contract a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Genital warts are a form of the most common STI.
Genital warts are pink, white or gray swellings in the genital area caused by a large group of viruses called human papillomaviruses (HPVs). Some of the viruses also increase the risk of cervical cancer. Genital warts often appear in small, cauliflower-shaped clusters that may itch or burn. About 6.2 million individuals (1 percent of all sexually active adults) in this country become infected each year.
A vaccine against four major types of HPV is now routinely recommended for girls ages 11 to 12 years and girls and women between the ages of 13 and 26 who have not been previously vaccinated. This vaccine can prevent most cases of cervical cancer and genital warts. Pregnant women should not get the vaccine.
Sometimes pregnancy-related hormones cause genital warts to grow. Occasionally, they may grow so large that they block the birth canal, making a cesarean section necessary. Rarely, an infected mother can pass the virus on to her baby, causing warts to grow on the baby’s vocal cords. A cesarean section is not recommended to protect the baby because this complication is rare, and the preventive effectiveness of cesarean delivery is not known.
If the warts grow large or make the woman uncomfortable, they can be safely removed during pregnancy with laser surgery or cryotherapy (freezing). To learn more about HPV, read the CDC’s fact sheet.
January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, sponsored by the National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC) and focused on raising awareness about how women can protect themselves from HPV and cervical cancer. NCCC wants you to make sure you and women in your life receive the HPV vaccine, and are screened regularly with a Pap and HPV test. Ask your healthcare provider about it today.