A Comparison of Genital HIV-1 Shedding and Sexual Risk Behavior Among Kenyan Women Based on Eligibility for Initiation of HAART According to WHO Guidelines

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Guidelines for initiating antiretrovirals are based on markers of advanced disease and are not directly linked to markers of HIV-1 transmission such as viral shedding.


We evaluated genital HIV-1 shedding and risk behavior among 650 antiretroviral-naïve women stratified by WHO criteria for initiating antiretrovirals based on CD4 count and symptoms.


Genital HIV-1 concentrations increased in stepwise fashion with declining CD4 counts and the presence of symptoms. Compared with the reference group (asymptomatic with CD4 >350 cells/μL), those with advanced immunosuppression (CD4 <200 cells/μL) had significantly higher cervical HIV-1 RNA concentrations (2.4 log10 copies/swab vs. 3.8 log10 copies/swab, P < 0.001). However, women with CD4 counts <200 cells/μL were also less likely than the reference group to report intercourse during the past week (58% vs. 26%, P < 0.001).


Antiretroviral guidelines focusing on individuals with the most advanced immunosuppression will target those with the highest genital HIV-1 concentrations. However, individuals with less advanced immunosuppression also have high levels of genital HIV-1 and may be more sexually active. The effect of increased antiretroviral availability on the spread of HIV-1 might be enhanced by extending treatment, in addition to other risk reduction services, to those with less advanced disease.

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