Persistent infection with certain types of the human papillomavirus (HPV) in pregnant women could increase the risk of preterm birth, reveals a Quebec study published Wednesday in the journal JAMA Network Openune.
The study led by Helen Trottier, researcher at CHU Sainte-Justine and professor at the University of Montreal, represents an important advance in the field, knowing that HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in Canada and in the world.
“Our study shows that persistent infection with HPV type 16 or 18 up to the third trimester of pregnancy is associated with a risk of preterm delivery. Knowing that preterm births remain a major cause of perinatal mortality and morbidity, these results are worrying, ”said Helen Trottier.
The research team relied on data collected from 899 pregnant women recruited through the HÉRITAGE cohort between 2010-2016 at CHU Sainte-Justine, CHUM and St Mary’s Hospital Center.
“We took vaginal samples during the first and third trimesters of pregnancy to perform genotyping tests to identify the specific types of HPV present. The presence of HPV was detected in 378 participants (42%), ”said Joseph Niyibizi, who worked on the project as part of his doctorate at the UdeM School of Public Health and who is the first author of study. “Compared to uninfected women, the risk of preterm delivery was tripled in pregnant women with persistent infection with HPV 16 or HPV 18,” he continued.
Infection with one of these high-risk types of HPV can indeed cause changes or abnormalities in the infected cells and lead to cancer. HPV 16 and HPV 18 alone are responsible for 70% of cervical cancer cases. Very often, infected people do not have any noticeable symptoms or lesions. The infection therefore goes under the radar, the researchers said.
This discovery, the results of which were published Wednesday in the journal JAMA Network Open, is in fact hopeful, since an effective vaccine against HPV exists, and could help prevent premature births linked to this infection.
The study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.