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HIV Risk Factors: Women With Specific Vaginal Bacteria May Be More Susceptible

Update Date: Jan 12, 2017 08:50 AM EST

A new study has revealed that women with low levels of Lactobacillus, but with high levels of another type of bacteria may be more susceptible to HIV. The sexually transmitted disease is most commonly transferred through sexual activity and needle sharing where blood and bodily fluids can be passed to another person.

Christina Gosmann and her colleagues in Ragon Institute of Massachusetts General Hospital found that young women are eight times more likely to acquire HIV than men. This highlights the need to better understand the factors why the female genital tract is more susceptible to HIV.

In their research, Gosmann and the team looked into the data of 236 women aged 18 to 32-years old. The women, also part of the study titled "Females Rising Through Education, Support and Health," were from KwaZulu-Natal, province in Durban, South Africa. It has one of the highest HIV burdens in the country.

All women were HIV-free at the start of the study. However, during the median follow up period of 336 days, 31 of the subjects already acquired HIV. The researchers found out that those with low levels of Lactobacillus but high levels of pro-inflammatory bacteria such as Prevotella and Sneathia were four times more likely to acquire HIV.

When researchers introduced these pro-inflammatory bacteria to the FGT of female mice, they found an increase in active mucosal CD4 T cells, which are the main target of HIV. The result could pave way in the research of HIV prevention and treatment.

There are still questions why specific bacteria are more dominant in women. Douglas Kwon, a physician scientist at Ragon Institute, and his team cannot yet identify the reason but environmental variables may be considered such as contraception method, diet, hygiene and sexual behaviour. Researchers are now working on how to reduce specific vaginal bacteria to reduce HIV risk among women.

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