Does HPV infection increase the risk of preterm birth?

Marian Aldhous, Sarah Stock, Ramya Bhatia, Roz Pollock

Infection with human papilloma virus (HPV) can damage cells in a woman’s cervix. We’re trying to find out why this might cause premature birth.

Timescale: Feb 2016 – Dec 2017

Early labour and birth affect around 7% of pregnancies in the UK. Sometimes, this is because the womb becomes infected. Cells in the cervix help to protect the womb from infection, but it is possible for the cervix itself to become infected.

Human papilloma virus (HPV) can infect cells in the cervix. In most women, HPV is destroyed by the immune system with no lasting effects. However, in some women, the infection carries on and can cause a specific kind of damage to the tissue, a lesion called a CIN or cervical intraepithelial neoplasia. This damage has been shown to increase the risk of early labour. We wanted to find out if this is because of treating the damaged tissue, or because of the HPV infection itself.

So far, we have collected information on around five and a half thousand women, around 35% of which had an HPV infection before pregnancy. We are now finishing looking at the data to see if HPV infection is related to early labour.

We found that being a carrier of HPV or having severe HVP-related cervical disease gave increased odds of a preterm birth.

Our results also showed that being a carrier of high-risk HVP gave increased odds of having an early miscarriage. We identified a link between mild-cervical disease and early miscarriage. However, there was no connection between severe cervical disease and early miscarriage.

This research has led to a collaboration with Health Protection Scotland to find out whether the introduction of a vaccination for HPV is linked to lower rates of preterm birth.

Thanks for your interest in our research

Tommy's funds research across the UK investigating the reasons for pregnancy complications and loss. Maternal and fetal research is underfunded and we need your support to continue. There are many small and large ways you can support us, find out more here.


This study is fully funded by Tommy's and takes place in a Tommy's centre

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