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Lancet. 1997 Aug 23;350(9077):546-50.

HIV-1 infection associated with abnormal vaginal flora morphology and bacterial vaginosis.

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  • 1Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda.

Erratum in

  • Lancet 1997 Oct 4;350(9083):1036.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

In-vitro research has suggested that bacterial vaginosis may increase the survival of HIV-1 in the genital tract. Therefore, we investigated the association of HIV-1 infection with vaginal flora abnormalities, including bacterial vaginosis and depletion of lactobacilli, after adjustment for sexual activity and the presence of other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

METHODS:

During the initial survey round of our community-based trial of STD control for HIV-1 prevention in rural Rakai District, southwestern Uganda, we selected 4718 women aged 15-59 years. They provided interview information, blood for HIV-1 and syphilis serology, urine for detection of Chlamydia trachomatis and Neisseria gonorrhoeae, and two self-administered vaginal swabs for culture of Trichomonas vaginalis and gram-stain detection of vaginal flora, classified by standardised, quantitative, morphological scoring. Scores 0-3 were normal vaginal flora (predominant lactobacilli). Higher scores suggested replacement of lactobacilli by gram-negative, anaerobic microorganisms (4-6 intermediate; 7-8 and 9-10 moderate and severe bacterial vaginosis).

FINDINGS:

HIV-1 frequency was 14.2% among women with normal vaginal flora and 26.7% among those with severe bacterial vaginosis (p < 0.0001). We found an association between bacterial vaginosis and increased HIV-1 infection among younger women, but not among women older than 40 years; the association could not be explained by differences in sexual activity or concurrent infection with other STDs. The frequency of bacterial vaginosis was similar among HIV-1-infected women with symptoms (55.0%) and without symptoms (55.7%). The adjusted odds ratio of HIV-1 infection associated with any vaginal flora abnormality (scores 4-10) was 1.52 (95% CI 1.22-1.90), for moderate bacterial vaginosis (scores 7-8) it was 1.50 (1.18-1.89), and for severe bacterial vaginosis (scores 9-10) it was 2.08 (1.48-2.94).

INTERPRETATION:

This cross-sectional study cannot show whether disturbed vaginal flora increases susceptibility to HIV-1 infection. Nevertheless, the increased frequency of HIV-1 associated with abnormal flora among younger women, for whom HIV-1 acquisition is likely to be recent, but not among older women, in whom HIV-1 is likely to have been acquired earlier, suggests that loss of lactobacilli or presence of bacterial vaginosis may increase susceptibility to HIV-1 acquisition. If this inference is correct, control of bacterial vaginosis could reduce HIV-1 transmission.

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PMID:
9284776
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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