Infertility can be difficult to grapple with, even for the strongest of couples. And when doctors can’t explain why you’ve had no luck getting knocked up? Well, that’s even more frustrating.
Now, a new, small study, published in the journal PLOS One, shows that there's a strong link between a specific strain of herpes and unexplained infertility.
Researchers discovered that the herpes strain HHV-6A infected the uterine lining in 43 percent of the 30 women in the study with unexplained infertility. However, it was not found in the uterus lining of the 36 women in the study who had no issues conceiving.
While HHV-6A is different than the strains that cause cold sores and genital herpes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that it’s still somewhat common. Doctors can determine if you have an HHV-6A infection by doing a biopsy of your uterine lining, a procedure that can be done in-office without anesthesia.
So…why does this happen? Researchers found that a woman’s immune response to the virus might make her uterus less friendly to a fertilized egg. Specifically, the virus seems to spark immune cells called “natural killer cells” in the uterus and causes them to produce chemicals called cytokines, which the immune system uses to attack foreign invaders, like viruses.
Unfortunately, those killer immune cells and cytokines might make it harder for a fertilized egg to implant into a woman’s uterus and grow. Basically, a woman with HHV-6A can technically become pregnant but may miscarry before she even knows it.
Why this is important: Infertility, defined as the inability to get pregnant after a year of unprotected sex, impacts up to 15 percent of couples in the U.S., according to the American Pregnancy Association, and about 20 percent of those cases are unexplained.
Still, while the findings may reveal why some women struggle with infertility, they don’t offer much in the way of a solution—yet.
There are currently no FDA-approved drugs to treat HHV-6A, and scientists say more research is needed to determine whether antiviral treatments can help women with the virus.