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Open Access Short Report

High risk human papillomavirus and Epstein Barr virus in human breast milk

Wendy K Glenn, Noel J Whitaker and James S Lawson*

Author Affiliations

School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

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BMC Research Notes 2012, 5:477  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-5-477

Published: 1 September 2012



Multiple viruses, including human immunodeficiency virus, Epstein Barr virus (EBV) and mouse mammary tumour virus have been identified in human milk. High risk human papillomavirus (HPV) sequences have been identified in breast cancer. The aim of this study is to determine if viral sequences are present in human milk from normal lactating women.


Standard (liquid) and in situ polymerase chain reaction (PCR) techniques were used to identify HPV and EBV in human milk samples from normal lactating Australian women who had no history of breast cancer.

High risk human papillomavirus was identified in milk samples of 6 of 40 (15%) from normal lactating women - sequencing on four samples showed three were HPV 16 and one was HPV 18. Epstein Barr virus was identified in fourteen samples (33%).


The presence of high risk HPV and EBV in human milk suggests the possibility of milk transmission of these viruses. However, given the rarity of viral associated malignancies in young people, it is possible but unlikely, that such transmission is associated with breast or other cancers.

Human papillomavirus; Epstein barr virus; Human milk