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To detect anti-HIV antibodies in cervicovaginal secretions of HIV-seronegative female sex workers and to evaluate whether the presence of these antibodies is associated with increased sexual exposure.A cross-sectional study was carried out at a confidential clinic for female sex workers in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. The participants were 342 HIV-seronegative female sex workers in whom a cervicovaginal lavage was collected.The main outcome measures were the detection of antibodies to HIV-1 in cervicovaginal lavages using an in-house and a commercial (Seradyn Sentinel®; Calypte Biomedical Corporation, Berkeley, California, USA) enzyme immunoassay; the detection of semen in cervicovaginal lavages; and the assessment of epidemiological and biological markers of sexual exposure to HIV.Cervicovaginal anti-HIV antibodies were detected in 7.3 and 29.8% of women using in-house enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and Seradyn Sentinel respectively. All cervicovaginal secretions found to be positive by in-house ELISA were also positive by Seradyn Sentinel. In a minority of women, ranging from 2.9% by in-house ELISA to 12.3% by Seradyn Sentinel, the anti-HIV antibodies were present in vaginal fluids that did not contain semen. Sexual exposure to HIV was similar in women with anti-HIV antibodies in their semen-free cervicovaginal secretions compared with women without anti-HIV antibodies in their cervicovaginal secretions.Cervicovaginal HIV-specific antibodies were detected in a minority of sexually exposed HIV-seronegative female sex workers in Abidjan. The lack of association between increased sexual exposure to HIV and presence of cervicovaginal HIV-specific antibodies suggests that the production of genital HIV-specific antibodies in exposed seronegative women depends on the ability of individual women to mount specific mucosal immunity to HIV antigens, the determinants of which are currently unknown.