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Can HPV cause infertility?

Medically reviewed on September 30, 2022 by Karen Janson, MS, MD. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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As one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the world, HPV infects millions each year. Symptoms can range from nonexistent to potentially life-threatening. While genital warts and cervical cancer are the most well-known side effects, there may be other aspects of your health affected by an HPV infection, like fertility and reproductive health. [1]

While human papillomavirus infection, or HPV, usually doesn’t directly cause infertility, some adverse effects linked to HPV could negatively impact fertility in both women and men. Keep reading to learn more about the role HPV plays in your reproductive health.

What is HPV?

Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, is a viral infection with more than 200 different strains. The strains vary in how they affect the body and their degree of severity. In some cases, infection can go completely undetected. In others, patients may experience noticeable symptoms such as warts on the genitals or other areas of the body. HPV is most frequently transmitted through sexual contact and skin-to-skin contact.

For many individuals, the body will clear the virus within two years. Approximately 10% of the population living with HPV is unable to properly rid the body of the virus, putting them at higher risk of developing complications like cervical dysplasia or cervical cancer. [2]

Connections between HPV and fertility

Certain infections—especially sexually transmitted infections and diseases—have been known to cause fertility concerns. With HPV, there are underlying issues (affecting both females and males) that can impact your ability to conceive or carry a child to term.

HPV, pregnancy, and birth

HPV and pregnancy – what are the effects? Any underlying infection or other health condition is often kept top of mind during pregnancy, and an HPV infection is no exception. Even if you’re living with HPV and have no visible symptoms, it’s important to test and monitor your condition closely with your healthcare provider during your pregnancy.

There are a few different ways HPV can affect pregnancy and birth:

  • Pregnancy may increase the risk of contracting HPV – An analysis combining several studies of women infected with HPV found a larger prevalence of the virus in pregnant people as opposed to nonpregnant people. The studies suggest that the altered immune response during pregnancy could lead to an increased risk of HPV infection.
  • HPV can raise the possibility of pregnancy loss or preterm labor – The same analysis also found an increased prevalence of HPV in pregnancies with adverse outcomes such as pregnancy loss and preterm labor. While causes and connections still need further exploration, another study suggested that HPV-infected semen may play a role in male infertility. [3]
  • HPV can potentially be transmitted to the newborn – Maternal transmission of the virus to the newborn baby is also a risk during pregnancy and the birthing process. Transmission appears greater when a newborn is exposed to the virus during a vaginal delivery. Fortunately, many children are able to flush the virus from their bodies within the first few years. [4]

Low-risk vs high-risk HPV

Different strains of HPV are associated with varying degrees of symptoms. Some low-risk strains of HPV cause hand, foot, or genital warts, but don’t pose additional risks and often clear up on their own. High-risk HPV strains don’t cause warts but can potentially cause cervical cancer down the road. [5]

HPV and cervical cancer

High-risk HPV infection and cervical cancer are very closely tied, as many HPV risk factors may lead to cervical cancer if left unaddressed. Fortunately, medical professionals will typically screen for potential cervical cancer by searching for the presence of precancerous cells on a routine pap smear evaluation.

HPV Tests may also be used, with or without a pap smear, to help identify the presence of a high-risk virus. Early detection is key to managing cervical cancer and taking measures to treat, and potentially cure the disease.

How cervical cancer affects fertility

While having cervical cancer doesn’t mean you won’t be able to conceive, cancer treatments themselves may pose a threat to carrying a pregnancy and make having a child more difficult. Early detection and minor surgical treatments may not affect a future pregnancy, but more intensive and invasive treatments like chemotherapy, radiation, and hysterectomies could make assistive reproductive technology the only option for having a child. [6]

Other cancers caused by HPV

While cervical cancer is the most prevalent type caused by HPV, there are other potential cancer risks associated with HPV. According to the National Cancer Institute, prolonged HPV infection with a high-risk HPV strain can lead to the development of cancer in beyond the cervix: [7]

  • Throat cancer
  • Vaginal cancer
  • Vulvar cancer
  • Anal cancer
  • Penile cancer

The risk of fertility issues may arise with treatment for these types of cancers, just as it does for cervical cancer treatment.

HPV and male fertility

While cervical cancer is the most commonly associated fertility issue associated with HPV, it may also have an adverse effect on the male reproductive system, specifically in regard to sperm and semen. HPV is suspected to be a direct caue of male infertility due to its higher prevalence in males who are undergoing fertility treatments with their partners.

A recent study of couples undergoing in vitro fertilization treatments found that one-third of the participants tested positive for HPV. The study found a higher rate of low sperm count and reduced sperm motility in the subjects infected with HPV. [3] Additionally, a seminal infection with HPV may be a risk factor for pregnancy loss.

Ways to prevent and treat HPV

Despite the widespread prevalence of HPV, recent medical breakthroughs, such as HPV vaccination, are working to reduce the number of infections. These vaccines may have extra benefits as more research sheds light on HPV's impact on fertility and reproduction. Below we’ll explore ways—both preventative and curative—for you to look after your sexual and reproductive health.

Preventative measures

There are a number of ways to decrease your risks of contracting HPV and developing HPV-related fertility issues, including HPV vaccination, protection, and testing:

  • Vaccination – The HPV vaccine series is recommended by the CDC for males and females ages 11-26 years as it can help prevent infection in individuals who have not yet been exposed to the virus. [8] Individuals who have been diagnosed with HPV infection can still benefit from the vaccination series since it may prevent infection by another strain in the future. In regards to fertility, the HPV vaccines may be recommended, even if you already have the sexually transmitted disease, if you are actively trying to conceive, either naturally or through assisted reproductive technology.
  • Physical protection – Use of protective measures like condoms and dental dams during sexual encounters may provide an extra layer of defense against HPV and other sexually transmissible diseases. While avoiding intimate contact altogether is often the only way to prevent infection and spread entirely, using protection is a smart way to reduce the risk of spread. [9]
  • Diagnostic testing – Since some forms of HPV can remain silent, following a preventative testing schedule can help you stay ahead of cervical cancer risks. Testing also helps slow the spread of the virus between partners by allowing for informed decision-making prior to sexual encounters.

Treatment options

If you’re one of the 13 million Americans who contract HPV annually, chances are the virus will clear up on its own. However, some treatments are available for persistent, symptomatic HPV infection.

Let’s take a closer look at the specifics for management: [10]

  • Topical treatment – Typically used for wart removal, rather than treating the virus as a whole, there are a number of topical treatments including salicylic acid and prescription creams. These types of treatments will usually clear up visible warts and lesions within a few weeks.
  • Surgical treatment – If the HPV infection requires a stronger treatment approach, other options include freezing or burning the lesion (cryotherapy and electrocautery), surgical removal, or laser surgery.
  • Colposcopy – An abnormal pap smear will usually result in a biopsy of the cervix (also known as a colposcopy) to further study the cells and determine if they’re precancerous or cancerous. This could also lead to surgical cell removal in the affected area.

Contracting HPV doesn’t necessarily have to put a stop to your fertility goals. Aside from these treatment and prevention methods, early detection through pap smears and high-risk HPV testing is often the best way to get ahead of any potential long-term negative effects of the infection.

Take control of your reproductive and sexual health with Everlywell

Knowledge is the first step toward charting your wellness course. If you’re concerned about your sexual or reproductive health, consider an at-home diagnostic test like the Everlywell female HPV Test so you can better understand potential health-related challenges.

At Everlywell, we’ve got your wellness path paved with the knowledge you need to make informed choices regarding your health. From innovative at-home diagnostic testing for men and women to nutritional support and supplements, let us help you find your way to a healthier tomorrow.

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  1. HPV Infection. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Website. URL. Accessed September 28, 2022
  2. Sadeghi MR. Human Papillomavirus Infection Is an Unresolved Challenge in Assisted Reproductive Techniques. J Reprod Infertil. 2022;23(2):71-72. doi:10.18502/jri.v23i2.8988. URL. Accessed September 28, 2022.
  3. Jeršovienė V, Gudlevičienė Ž, Rimienė J, Butkauskas D. Human Papillomavirus and Infertility. Medicina (Kaunas). 2019;55(7):377. Published 2019 Jul 15. doi:10.3390/medicina55070377. URL. Accessed September 28, 2022.
  4. Condrat CE, Filip L, Gherghe M, Cretoiu D, Suciu N. Maternal HPV Infection: Effects on Pregnancy Outcome. Viruses. 2021;13(12):2455. Published 2021 Dec 7. doi:10.3390/v13122455. URL. Accessed September 28, 2022.
  5. Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Planned Parenthood Website. URL. Accessed September 28, 2022.
  6. Can you have kids after cervical cancer? Roswell Park Website. URL. Accessed September 28, 2022.
  7. HPV and cancer. National Institute of Health Website. URL. Accessed September 28. 2022.
  8. HPV vaccination information for young women. Centers for Disease Control and Protection Website. URL. Accessed September 28, 2022.
  9. How can I make sure I don’t get or spread HPV? Planned Parenthood Website. URL. Accessed September 28, 2022.
  10. HPV Infection. Mayo Clinic Website. URL. Accessed September 28, 2022.
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