BACKGROUND: Bacterial vaginosis (BV) has been found to be associated with HIV acquisition and transmission. This is suggested to be due to higher HIV RNA levels in cervicovaginal fluids in women living with HIV (WLWH) with BV, as bacteria associated with BV may induce viral replication and shedding in the genital tract despite undetectable HIV RNA plasma viral load. We examined the prevalence and diagnostic predictors of BV and HIV-1 RNA vaginal shedding in women living with HIV (WLWH) in Denmark, taking into account the presence of human papillomavirus (HPV) and herpes viridae.
METHODS: WLWH between 18-51 years were recruited from six Departments of Infectious Diseases in Denmark during enrolment in the SHADE cohort; a prospective cohort study of WLWH attending regular outpatient care. BV was diagnosed by microscopy of vaginal swabs and PCR was used for detection of BV-associated bacteria, HPV, herpes viridae, and vaginal HIV viral load.
RESULTS: Median age of the 150 included women was 41 years; ethnicity was predominantly White (35%) or Black (47%). The majority (96%) was on ART and had undetectable (85%) plasma HIV RNA (<40 copies/mL). BV was diagnosed in 32%. Overall, 11% had detectable vaginal HIV RNA. Both before and after adjustment for BV, age, ethnicity, plasma HIV RNA, CD4 cell count, herpes viridae and HPV, we found no significant predictors of HIV RNA vaginal shedding.
CONCLUSION: In well-treated WLWH, BV, herpes viridae or HPV do not predict vaginal HIV RNA shedding. This implies that HIV shedding does not seem to be increased by BV.