For many years pediatricians have associated genital warts with child abuse and have automatically contacted social services when they encounter genital warts in a child. A study about genital warts and child abuse that was recently conducted at Wake Forest University Medical Center revealed that physicians and medical professionals should not rush to judgment if a child has genital warts but no other signs of child abuse.

"We have seen over the past few years an increase in the number of human papillomavirus (HPV) cases (the virus that causes genital and anal warts) said Dr. Sara Sinal, a pediatrician at Brenner Children's hospital and an expert in child abuse cases." Dr. Sinal and her colleagues noted that the same virus that causes genital warts is also found in children who go to an ear, nose and throat doctor for oral or laryngeal warts (warts found in the mouth and throat.) However, these children, even though they have the same virus, are generally not considered victims of child abuse.

"This is the same virus in a different location in the body and child abuse is never considered," Sinal said. "This caused us to take a second look about how we assess genital warts and child abuse and now we believe that it is quite possible for a child to get genital warts without sexual contact."

"We should not call social services to report genital warts in a child if there are no other signs of child abuse," said Dr. Sinal. "Having been involved in many child abuse reports, I know how traumatic a false report can be for the child and the family."

That being said, Dr. Sinal is in no way suggesting that pediatricians turn a blind eye to possible abuse. "It's important to keep it in perspective. There are many children with genital warts who aren't victims of child abuse. There are also many children out there who don't have genital warts who are definitely victims of child abuse."

HPV is a virus which can affect mucous membranes, causing warts to grow in the anal, genital and oral cavities or in respiratory areas of the body. It is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States. However, it can also be spread from mother to child in the birth canal.

A person can get warts in their mouth and throat after having oral sex with someone who is infected. It is very possible that these warts can be transmitted by contact with a hand or a contaminated object. The virus can lay dormant for many months and perhaps years before warts appear and some infected patients never have symptoms.

"We are not totally ruling out child abuse as a possible cause for genital warts." Dr. Sinal said. "Every child with genital warts needs an evaluation for possible abuse. However, when there are no other signs that a child is being abused, we no longer feel it is necessary to automatically report the family to the department of social services. "

Glossary:

HPV (human papillomavirus): a sexually transmitted virus that can affect the genital area of men and women


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