Infectious correlates of HIV-1 shedding in the female upper and lower genital tracts

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Objectives:To determine the effects of vaginal, cervical, and endometrial infections on shedding of HIV-1 RNA in the female genital tract.Design:Cross-sectional.Methods:Antiretroviral-naive women from Nairobi, Kenya with CD4 cell counts ≥ 350 cells/μl had plasma and endocervical wick samples collected for HIV quantification by real-time RNA reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction. Vaginal and cervical Gram stains and endometrial biopsies were obtained. Vaginal Gram stain was used to diagnose bacterial vaginosis and to quantify Lactobacillus levels.Results:Twenty-six of 50 (52%) women had detectable endocervical HIV-1 RNA with a median endocervical viral load of 1760 copies/ml (range: undetectable to 1 030 000 copies/ml). Women with decreased Lactobacillus had 15.8-fold [95% confidenceinterval (CI), 2.0–123] greater endocervical HIV-1 RNA than women with normal Lactobacillus levels. Women with plasma cell (PC) endometritis [≥ 1 PC/high-power field (hpf)] had a 15.8-fold (95% CI, 2.0–120) higher endocervical HIV RNA level than women without PC endometritis. Both these associations remained after controlling for plasma viral load. Cervicitis (≥ 30 polymorphonuclear leukocytes/hpf), however, was not associated with endocervical HIV-1 RNA shedding (P = 0.81).Conclusions:In HIV-1-infected, antiretroviral-naive women without symptoms of pelvic inflammatory disease infection, abnormal vaginal flora and inflammatory cells in the endometrium affected HIV-1 shedding from the lower genital tract. These data suggest that both the upper and lower genital tracts contribute to female HIV-1 genital shedding.

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