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26 January 2007
Common Infection Raises Risk For HIV

Women with a common sexually transmitted disease, trichomoniasis, or "trich", have a significantly increased risk of HIV infection, reports an article in The Journal of Infectious Diseases. While studies in the past have shown the link between sexually transmitted infections and susceptibility to HIV, the new study is one of the first to demonstrate an association between trichomoniasis and HIV infection.

Trichomoniasis is caused by the parasite Trichomonas vaginalis and infects nearly 180 million people worldwide each year. On its own, it usually does not cause serious complications. Some women may have a frothy, strong-smelling yellow green discharge, and may feel discomfort during intercourse and urination, as well as itching of the genital area. Lower abdominal pain occurs in rare cases.

Study leader, R. Scott McClelland, explained that because infection with T. vaginalis is common, even a modest increase in vulnerability to HIV acquisition as a result could mean a substantial attributable risk for HIV infection overall. McClelland's results showed a 1.5-fold increased risk of HIV infection among women with trichomoniasis. "What this means is that a woman with trichomoniasis is at about fifty percent greater risk for acquiring HIV than a woman without trichomoniasis, after adjusting for other differences between the women such as differences in the rates of condom use, number of sex partners, etc." said McClelland.

The researchers speculate that because trichomoniasis can cause tiny areas of bleeding within mucous membranes, a new physical pathway for HIV infection is effected. Importantly, the study also noted that the T. vaginalis parasite has been shown to break down an enzyme that blocks HIV attachment to cells.

McClelland suggested that "comprehensive strategies for reducing vaginal infections and addressing potentially harmful intravaginal practices such as douching, washing, or placing traditional substances in the vagina should be developed and evaluated in clinical trials as possible female-controlled HIV prevention interventions."

Source: Infectious Diseases Society of America

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