Determinants of HIV-1 shedding in the genital tract of women

Lancet. 2001 Nov 10;358(9293):1593-601. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(01)06653-3.


Background: Plasma HIV-1 RNA concentration has been the best predictor for risk of heterosexual and perinatal transmission. However, direct contact with HIV-1 present locally in the genital tract might be necessary for transmission. We aimed to assess the relation between HIV-1 shedding (RNA or culturable virus) in female genital secretions and other factors that might affect HIV-1 shedding.

Methods: This was a cross-sectional study within the Women's Interagency HIV Study (WIHS), a prospective longitudinal cohort study of HIV-infected women. We enrolled 311 HIV positive women from Jan 30, 1997 to July 1, 1998. We did clinical assessments, cultured HIV-1, and measured RNA in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) and genital secretions. We compared the results with univariate and multivariate analyses. Presence of HIV-1 RNA or culturable virus in genital secretions was defined as HIV-1 shedding.

Findings: HIV-1 RNA was present in genital secretions of 57% (152/268) of women whereas infectious virus was detected only in 6% (17/271). Genital tract HIV-1 shedding was found in 80% (130/163) of women with detectable plasma RNA and 78% (116/148) of women with positive PBMC cultures. 33% (27/83) of women with less than 500 copies/mL plasma RNA and 39% (35/90) of those with negative PBMC cultures also had genital tract shedding.

Interpretation: Plasma RNA concentration, both qualitatively and quantitatively, was the most important factor in predicting genital HIV-1 shedding, even among women receiving potent antiretroviral therapy. However, HIV-1 shedding did occur in women with less than 500 copies/mL plasma HIV-1 RNA. This finding suggests that a separate reservoir of HIV-1 replication may exist in some women.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Genitalia, Female / virology*
  • HIV-1 / isolation & purification*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Multicenter Studies as Topic
  • Prospective Studies
  • RNA, Viral / blood
  • Risk Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Virus Diseases / diagnosis
  • Virus Diseases / epidemiology
  • Virus Shedding*


  • RNA, Viral