Mothers infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV) are nearly four times more likely to have a premature baby, a study has suggested.
Canadian academics found a “significant” link between pregnant women who give birth early and HPV types 16 and 18, which cause 70 percent of cervical cancers.
Eight in ten people will become infected with HPV at some point in their lives, which is usually spread through sex.
Experts from the University of Montreal have not yet found any reason why contamination could increase the risk of preterm birth.
But they suggested that the virus can cause changes in the vaginal microbiome, which can cause inflammation and lead to early labor.
Genital tract viruses — of which HPV is the most common — can also make women more susceptible to bacterial infections that can cause preterm labor, medics say.
If a causal relationship is confirmed, an HPV vaccine could reduce the number of preterm births and the “related burden” on health services, the scientists said.
Premature birth is one of the leading causes of death in newborns and can cause lifelong health problems.
In the UK, one in 13 babies is born prematurely – classified as before week 37 of pregnancy – while the figure for the US is one in 10.
In the UK, a total of 60,000 babies are born prematurely each year, which equates to about eight in every 100 births (file)
Eight in ten people will become infected with HPV at some point in their lives, which is usually spread through sex
The cause is a mystery to most preterm births, but smoking and conditions like diabetes have been linked to early labor.
Long-term effects for preterm infants include disabilities related to learning, seeing, and hearing.
WHAT IS HPV? THE INFECTION ASSOCIATED WITH 99% OF UTERIAL CANCER CASES
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the name for a group of viruses that affect your skin and the moist membranes lining your body.
Spread through vaginal, anal and oral sex and skin-to-skin contact between the genitals is very common.
Up to eight in ten people will become infected with the virus at some point in their lives.
There are more than 100 types of HPV. About 30 of these can affect the genital area. Genital HPV infections are common and highly contagious.
Many people never show symptoms, as they can occur years after infection, and most cases resolve without treatment.
It can lead to genital warts and is also known to cause cervical cancer by creating an abnormal tissue growth.
An average of 38,000 cases of HPV-related cancers are diagnosed annually in the US, 3,100 cases of cervical cancer in the UK and about 2,000 other cancers in men.
What other cancers does it cause?
Several animal studies have linked HPV to pregnancy risk, but research in humans has shown mixed results.
In the study, published in the journal JAMA network openedFrom 2010 to 2016, Dr. Helen Trottier and her team surveyed 899 pregnant women aged 19-47 at three hospitals.
They wanted to determine whether there was a link between HPV and women who gave birth early, which they classified as 20 to 37 weeks after conception.
The average pregnancy lasts 40 weeks, about nine months.
This research is of utmost importance because HPV prevalence is highest among women in the age group with the highest birth rate (25 to 34 years old), they said.
The virus – which can be found in the mouth and throat as well as in the genitals – is often harmless for the majority and in most cases disappears on its own.
Of the participants, 378 (42 percent) had HPV in vaginal samples taken during the first trimester.
The majority of these women (68 percent) were still infected in the third trimester.
About 55 participants gave birth early – with an average conception of 36 weeks – of which 38 were natural, while 17 were medically induced.
The researchers found no overarching association between all types of HPV vaginal infection in the first trimester and preterm birth.
However, women infected with HPV type 16 or 18 during the first trimester were 2.6 times more likely to have preterm birth.
And those who had a persistent infection during their pregnancy were 3.7 times more likely to give birth early, analysis suggested.
The researchers said, “Even in a population considered low-risk based on sociodemographic and sexual history characteristics, HPV infection is common during pregnancy, and most HPV infections detected in the first trimester persist.” until the third trimester.’
Previous studies had found a much weaker link between the virus and early birth, but some of these examined only a limited number of HPV types or failed to consider factors such as age and medical history, they said.
“All of those factors may have been associated with a biased, lower estimate of the association between HPV infection and preterm birth,” the team added.