Study supports HPV vaccination for protection during pregnancy
pregnancy complications

A ground-breaking study by the University of Otago has found links between the human papilloma virus (HPV) and several pregnancy complications, including premature birth and pre-eclampsia.

The study focused on 339 placentas, three-quarters of which had been infected by HPV. In the births of infected placentas, delivery was generally a week earlier than expected. In a quarter of cases this meant that the baby was premature.  

HPV is one of the most common Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) out there, with most sexually active people contracting it at some point in their lives. There are over 100 types of HPV; some are low-risk and some are high-risk. Most are transient though, and go away before causing any health problems.

Study lead author Dr Noelyn Hung says that the study was not geared to prove that the pregnancy complications were caused by HPV, but that at the very least, HPV-infected placentas can contribute to such conditions.

“While further investigation is required into this link, our study provides additional evidence to support HPV vaccination. If pre-eclampsia, which is estimated to affect around 5% of deliveries, is indeed caused or compounded by HPV then vaccination becomes an important pregnancy protection measure.”

Of the 339 placentas, 78% were infected with ‘high risk’ types of the virus, and all 20 women in the study who had pre-eclampsia were found to be infected with these high-risk HPV types.

Ten per cent of infected placentas also developed another infection of the membranes called acute chorioamnionitis.

Chorioamnionitis is a bacterial infection and develops when bacteria that are part of the normal vaginal flora “ascend” into the uterine cavity. The amniotic fluid and placenta, as well as the baby, become infected.

Study lead author Dr Noelyn Hung says that not every infected placenta will have problems; it depends on the pattern of HPV infection and the mother’s immune system.

Currently, women under 20 can get the HPV vaccine for free in NZ. Those over 20 can still get it but do have to pay.

You can find out more information about the HPV vaccine at the Ministry of Health website.

This article contains general information only and should not replace advice from a qualified health professional.

Last revised: Friday, 28 August 2015

This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional.