Whenever doctors have found a child with genital warts, it has always been assumed that the child had been abused. Doctors usually call social services immediately. However, there was a recent study at the Wake Forest University Medical Center that suggests it may not always be the case. If a child has genital warts but no other signs of child abuse, it may not be the case.
According to Dr. Sara Sinal at the Brenner Children's hospital, a trusted expert on child abuse, "We have seen over the past few years an increase in the number of human HPV cases." HPV refers to papillomavirus, the disease that causes genital warts. Dr. Sinal's studies show that kids who also develop warts in other parts of the body, such as the mouth, ear, nose or throat, were also likely to develop warts in their genital areas. Even though these kids suffer from HPV as well, there is not necessarily any reason to assume that it is sexually transmitted.
Previous to this study, it had never occurred to doctors that the HPV virus could cause warts in other parts of the body. When this was discovered, it forced them to consider that there may be other non-sexual causes for the transmission of the virus. The result is that it appears possible for kids to contract the disease in ways other than through child abuse.
A false child abuse report can destroy a family. "We should not call social services to report genital warts in a child if there are no other signs of child abuse," noted Dr. Sinal. "I know how traumatic a false report can be for the child and the family."
Taking this into consideration, Dr. Sinal said that it is still very important for pediatricians to be on the lookout for genital warts cases that may be caused by child abuse. "It's important to keep it in perspective," she has said. "There are many children with genital warts who are not victims of child abuse. There are also many children out there who do not have genital warts who are definitely victims of child abuse."
The reason why HPV causes warts is that it affects the mucous membranes in areas of the body such as the genitals, anal cavity, respiratory parts of the body and mouth. In the United States in recent years, HPV has become the largest STD. Although it is usually sexually transmitted, it can also be passed on from a mother to her child through the birth canal.
The virus is also transmittable orally. In fact, it may be possible to get HPV by simply coming into contact with a contaminated object or body part. It is difficult to detect, because the disease can be dormant in an infected person for days, months or even years. An HPV infected person may never even exhibit symptoms at all.
According to Dr. Sinal, this does not mean that pediatricians should ignore child abuse as a possible cause of genital warts. Each child found to have genital warts still needs to be carefully examined for other signs of abuse. But, if there are no other signs that the child has been aborted, it may be a hasty decision to call social services. Physicians will have to be cautious in the future.