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J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2019 Jun 1;81(2):e39-e48. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000002015.

Daily Vaginal Swabs and Mobile Phone Sex Report for Assessing HIV Virion Exposure Prospectively Among a Cohort of Young Sexually Active Women in South Africa (HVTN 915).

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Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, WA.
Perinatal HIV Research Unit, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Department of Laboratory Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA.
Centre of HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections, National Institute for Communicable Diseases, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Global Health, University of Washington, Seattle, WA.
South African Medical Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa.



Measurements of HIV exposure could help identify subpopulations at highest risk of acquisition and improve the design of HIV prevention efficacy trials and public health interventions. The HVTN 915 study evaluated the feasibility of self-administered vaginal swabs for detection of HIV virions to assess exposure.


Fifty 18- to 25-year-old sexually active HIV-seronegative women using contraception were enrolled in Soweto, South Africa. Participants self-administered daily vaginal swabs and answered sexual behavior questions through mobile phone for 90 days. Clinician-administered vaginal swabs, behavioral questionnaires, HIV diagnostic testing, and counseling were performed at 8 clinic visits. Glycogen concentrations assessed adherence to swabbing. Y-chromosome DNA (Yc-DNA) assessed the accuracy of reported condom use. HIV exposure was measured by virion polymerase chain reaction in swabs from 41 women who reported unprotected vaginal sex during follow-up.


Glycogen was detected in 315/336 (93.8%) participant-collected and in all clinician-collected swabs. Approximately 20/39 daily swabs (51.3%) linked to mobile reports of unprotected sex tested positive for Yc-DNA, whereas 10/187 swabs collected after 3 days of abstinence or protected sex (5.3%) had detectable Yc-DNA. No participant became HIV infected during the study; yet, exposure to HIV was detected by nucleic acids in 2 vaginal swabs from 1 participant, collected less than 1 hour after coitus.


There was high adherence to daily vaginal swabbing. Daily mobile surveys had accurate reporting of unprotected sex. Detection of HIV in self-collected vaginal swabs from an uninfected participant demonstrated it was possible to measure HIV exposure, but the detection rate was lower than expected.

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