What exactly IS HPV? And what does it have to do with pregnant women? Or ANY women for that matter?
HPV, or Human Papillomavirus is most commonly known as a type of sexually transmitted disease. A factor not often known however is that there are over 100 different types of HPV out there, and that not all of them are to be considered STDs. Having HPV for instance, does not necessarily mean that you have genital warts, which is caused only by certain strains of the virus. Certain types of genital HPV infections are responsible however, for numerous women being found to have cervical dysplasia, or abnormalities to cervical cells, when pregnant. What doctor’s usually fail to mention at the time of diagnoses, is that an HPV infection is NOT something to be ashamed of. A diagnosis that lacks some of the following information can be extremely confusing for expectant mothers, especially those who are in established relationships and may have been for some time. Being informed of an infection in this incomplete manner can lead to anger, hurt, frustration, and quite often a blatant sense of disbelief. In my own case, I found myself wondering exactly how I should feel. Should I feel dirty, or sick? Should I expect my husband to pull away from me in disgust? Is this happening to me because of something I did wrong? Luckily, I was able to bypass all of these potential issues when my husband and I put in a little bit of research time. Avid research can help ease a lot of worries, and develop a wonderful sense of understanding and relief.
First and foremost, it is important to realize that over 80% of all women will have an active HPV infection at some point in their lives. This means that 4 out of the next 5 women you see will be or already are infected. Because HPV can only be found via a specific DNA test, the majority of these women will never even know they are infected. In addition to this, the body’s immune system will simply destroy the infection after a certain period of time, again leaving these women with no knowledge whatsoever that the infection was even present. A pregnant woman’s immune system on the other hand, is already somewhat compromised in the fact that her body is providing for another life as well as her own. This will often allow the HPV infection to begin to create cervical cell abnormalities, which may show up during the routine tests of pregnancy. While just as many men are infected with HPV, there is no diagnostic test for males, and as all men will be asymptomatic, there will be no signs to even suggest a problem. A man’s immune system, as is the case with most women’s, will simply defeat the infection before they are even aware that there is one. HPV is the only type of genital virus transmitted by skin to skin contact. Which means, that regardless of how few sexual partners a person has had, and regardless of how protected they were each and every time, NOTHING can prevent HPV other than complete and total abstinence.
On another important note, a man or woman can carry an HPV infection for literally years and have no knowledge of it. Which means that many faithful, happily married couples may find themselves diagnosed with an active HPV infection at some point in their lives. An HPV infection is in no way an indication that your partner has been cheating on you, as the infection may ‘sleep’ for years. It is generally understood that if you are in a monogamous relationship, regardless of who initially contracted the virus, both partners will carry the infection at some time. The good news is, you cannot reinfect your partner, or become reinfected yourself, with the same strain of HPV after you have already had it. On another good note, an HPV infection has no effect on a developing fetus whatsoever (though discussion should be had with your doctor regarding delivery options in case there is a chance of transferring the virus via a vaginal delivery), and medical science has developed numerous treatment options, any of which can easily be conducted post delivery.
The implications society places on the phrase “HPV Infection”, namely the false belief that it is always caused by irresponsible sexual behavior, can create an unwanted, and certainly unneeded stress for pregnant women. Hopefully, as today’s modern women come to discover that this IS a very common issue, they will also make a concerted effort to help educate the rest of world and thus help reverse an emotionally hurtful and horrendously incorrect association.