The vaginal microbiota and susceptibility to HIV

AIDS. 2014 Oct 23;28(16):2333-44. doi: 10.1097/qad.0000000000000432.


There is some evidence that the risk of HIV infection per heterosexual act is higher in low-income countries than in high-income countries. We hypothesize that variations in per sex-act transmission probability of HIV may in part be attributed to differences in the composition and function of the vaginal microbiota between different populations. This paper presents data that are in support of this hypothesis. Experimental and clinical studies have provided evidence that the normal vaginal microbiota plays a protective role against acquisition of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Epidemiological studies have convincingly shown that disturbances of the vaginal microbiome, namely intermediate flora and bacterial vaginosis, increase the risk of acquisition of HIV infection. A review of the literature found large differences in prevalence of bacterial vaginosis between different populations, with the highest prevalence rates found in black populations. Possible explanations for these differences are presented including data suggesting that there are ethnic differences in the composition of the normal vaginal microbiota. Lastly, interventions are discussed to restore and maintain a healthy vaginal environment.

Publication types

  • Editorial

MeSH terms

  • Disease Susceptibility*
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology
  • HIV Infections / immunology
  • HIV Infections / microbiology*
  • HIV Infections / transmission*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Microbiota*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Vagina / microbiology*
  • Vaginosis, Bacterial / complications