The human papillomavirus (HPV) infects epithelial cells (surface cells) on the oral or genital mucous membranes and parts of the skin, such as the hands or feet. Any contact with those areas that contain the virus could lead to transmission.
It’s common among sexually active adults.
Sometimes, the body can fight off the virus and rid itself of it in 1 to 2 years.
When left untreated, many sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can lead to infertility.
However, HPV shouldn’t affect your ability to conceive. Although you may have heard that HPV can lead to fertility problems, that’s generally not the case.
HPV infections don’t always require treatment. If your doctor decides that they need to remove abnormal cells, they’ll use one of the following techniques:
- cryotherapy, or freezing and eliminating the abnormal tissue
- a cone biopsy to remove part of the cervix
- a loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP), which involves removing cells with a wire loop that carries an electrical charge
These procedures can affect your ability to conceive or reach full term in your pregnancy. This is because cell removal can change your cervical mucus production.
It may also cause stenosis, or a narrowing of the opening of the cervix. This may cause sperm to slow and make it more difficult for an egg to get fertilized.
Certain treatments may also cause the cervix to weaken. While this will not cause infertility or difficulty becoming pregnant, it can lead to cervical insufficiency, which can cause your cervix to widen and thin before your pregnancy has come to term.
In addition, a 2015 study concluded that HPV had a negative effect on sperm motility.
However, more research on the effects of HPV in men is necessary to determine whether these are consistent findings.
For most, HPV shouldn’t affect the chances of conceiving. Although it’s possible that HPV could lead to male infertility, more research is necessary.
Nevertheless, sexually active women should talk with their doctors about current HPV screening guidelines. At this time, an HPV test for men isn’t available.
If you aren’t currently trying to conceive, you should use a condom during sexual activity to minimize your chances of transmitting or contracting HPV.
If I become pregnant, can HPV affect my pregnancy or my baby’s health?
In general, HPV isn’t seen as a high risk to pregnancy. It isn’t known to cause any intrauterine problems. The potential for HPV transmission to a fetus during vaginal birth is low. Vaginal birth is usually encouraged over cesarean unless the patient has large condyloma, or genital warts, from the HPV. If the warts are large enough, they can block the birth canal.