Correlates of HIV-1 shedding in cervicovaginal secretions and effects of antiretroviral therapies

AIDS. 2003 Oct 17;17(15):2169-76. doi: 10.1097/00002030-200310170-00004.


Objectives: To evaluate the determinants of HIV-1 RNA shedding in cervicovaginal secretions and the effects of antiretroviral therapy in a group of infected women.

Methods: A total of 122 women from whom paired peripheral blood and cervicovaginal lavage samples were available were enrolled in the study. HIV-1 RNA was quantified in the plasma and cell-free fraction of cervicovaginal lavages by the nucleic acid sequence-based amplification assay (lower limit of detection 80 copies/ml).

Results: Seventy-one per cent of the women had detectable viral load in the cervicovaginal lavage and this appeared to be correlated to plasma viral load and to the degree of immunodeficiency as expressed by the absolute number of CD4 cells. Antiretroviral-treated patients had a lower risk of shedding the virus in the genital tract, but this association was limited to patients treated with highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). However, in 25% of women with undetectable plasma viral load, a genital shedding of the virus was demonstrated.

Conclusion: Plasma viral load may fail as a marker of infectivity of genital secretions. HAART treatment seems to be more efficacious in suppressing viral shedding at the genital level. The female genital tract represents a distinct compartment for HIV-1 replication/evolution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anti-HIV Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Antiretroviral Therapy, Highly Active / methods
  • CD4 Lymphocyte Count
  • Cervix Uteri / virology*
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / blood
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy
  • HIV Infections / virology*
  • HIV-1 / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • RNA, Viral / blood
  • Risk Factors
  • Vagina / virology*
  • Viral Load
  • Virus Shedding / physiology*


  • Anti-HIV Agents
  • RNA, Viral