Does HPV infection increase the risk of preterm birth?

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.

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 want 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.

This research has also 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.


Marian Aldhous, Sarah Stock, Ramya Bhatia, Roz Pollock 

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

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