University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers have found that a common vaginal infection may make women more susceptible to contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Data from more than 30,700 women from around the world, detailed in more than 23 scientific studies, shows that women with bacterial vaginosis – the most common type of infection in women of reproductive age – were far more likely than others to be infected with HIV. The association between bacterial vaginosis (BV) and HIV was stronger for women without high-risk sexual behavior. This new data was published in the peer-reviewed journal, AIDS.
Quoting the authors from the UNC press release: “Given that bacterial vaginosis and HIV infection are both transmitted sexually, it is difficult to determine whether associations found are causal, or if there is some other reason why women with BV are more likely than others to become infected with HIV,” said Jennifer S. Smith, epidemiology research assistant professor in the UNC School of Public Health. The authors indicate that future prevention of HIV infection should include placing more importance on the treatment of BV.
Bacterial vaginosis is an imbalance in the type of bacteria normally found in the vagina. BV has been shown to cause gynecological and obstetrical problems including preterm delivery, pelvic inflammatory disease and upper genital tract infections. Other research has shown that BV results in several changes in the vagina that could explain why it increases the risk of HIV, such as a depletion in a type of bacteria that are believed to play a role in defending the vagina against microorganisms including HIV, and higher pH levels that may increase the adherence and survival of the virus.
As I read the details on this one (in bold text above), I am reminded of how important the colonization of "friendly" bacteria are to personal health and hygiene. Hopefully, suppliers of probiotic products are working on ways for women to replenish the friendly bacteria in this part of the body in order to keep BV at bay, and to have a higher level of protection against HIV.
The studies analyzed by Smith and colleagues included women from the U.S., Malawi, Kenya, South Africa, Thailand, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, South Africa, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Gambia. Prevalence of BV in women in these countries ranged from about 11 percent to as high as 70 percent.
The analysis of data indicates that BV increases the risk of acquiring HIV by about 60 percent.