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 of those areas with a person who has the virus could lead to transmission.

It’s common among sexually active adults.

Approximately 79 million Americans have at least one type of HPV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). At least 150 varieties of HPV exist.

Sometimes, the body can fight off the virus and rid itself of it in one to two years.

This isn’t always the case, though. Some types of HPV can cause serious health problems, such as skin warts and cancers.

When left untreated, many sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) 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.

Some strains of HPV can increase a woman’s risk of cervical cancer. Removing cancerous or precancerous cells from the cervix can, in turn, affect fertility.

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:

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.

One 2011 study found that men with HPV-infected semen can experience infertility. If HPV-infected sperm fertilizes an egg, it may increase the risk of early miscarriage. A 2014 study also found that HPV-infected sperm could contribute to male and couple infertility.

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.

People once thought the HPV vaccine caused infertility. This idea has been largely debunked. It’s now thought that the vaccine can improve fertility by preventing the development of precancerous and cancerous cells in the cervix.

For most men and women, HPV shouldn’t affect their chances of conceiving. Although it’s possible that HPV could lead to infertility in men, 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 spreading or contracting HPV.

Q:

If I become pregnant, can HPV affect my pregnancy or my baby’s health?

A:

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.

Michael Weber, MDAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.