Common Infection Increases Risk of Transmitting HIV
A common bacterial infection that affects many females may increase their risk of transmitting HIV to their partners. A study funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was presented at the International Aids Conference this week in Rome, Italy which examined the role of infection in women with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa.
Bacterial vaginosis is an infection of the vaginal canal which causes an abnormal vaginal discharge. It is the most common gynecological infection seen in an outpatient setting, affecting up to one third of all women in the United States. The etiology of bacterial vaginosis in unknown; it is not generally considered a sexually transmitted infection, although it is seen more commonly as women acquire greater numbers of sexual partners. This type of infection is easily treated with a course of oral antibiotics or intravaginal (topical) antibiotic therapy.
Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, led by Craig Cohen, examined whether the presence of bacterial vaginosis in HIV-positive women increased their likelihood of transmitting HIV to their male sexual partners. Among male participants who had a female partner with bacterial vaginosis, 2.9 men per 100 enrolled acquired HIV within 2 years. Their counterparts whose female partners had no such bacterial infection acquired 0.9 HIV infections per 100 men within 2 years.
Cohen theorizes that the normalization of a woman's vaginal flora may decrease the recurrence of bacterial vaginosis. It is very common for women with this type of infection to have a recurrence within three months. Is is hypothesized that replenishing normal vaginal flora by use of probiotics may help stabilize the growth of harmful bacteria. Researchers at Australian pharmaceutical firm Starpharma are working with Dr. Cohen on the development of a vaginal probiotic gel called Vivagel which would help reduce the incidence of bacterial vaginosis, and thereby reduce the risk of transmitting HIV.