The objective of this study was to describe the impact of intense counseling to reduce vaginal hygiene practices and its effect on bacterial vaginosis. A secondary data analysis of the HIV Prevention Trials Network 035 study was undertaken, focusing on HIV-negative, nonpregnant women who were at least 18 years old, in seven African sites and one US site. At enrollment and during follow-up quarterly visits, vaginal hygiene practices were determined by face-to-face administration of a behavioral assessment questionnaire. Vaginal hygiene practices were categorized as insertion into the vagina of (1) nothing, (2) water only, and (3) other substances with or without water. Each practice was quantified by frequency and type/combination of inserted substances. At quarterly visits, diagnosis of bacterial vaginosis was made using the Nugent score. Trends for vaginal hygiene practices and bacterial vaginosis were evaluated using generalized estimating equation models. A total of 3087 participants from the HIV Prevention Trials Network 035 study were eligible for this analysis. At enrollment, 1859 (60%) reported recent vaginal hygiene practices. By one year, this figure had decreased to 1019 (33%) with counseling. However, bacterial vaginosis prevalence remained consistent across the study observation period, with 36%-38% of women testing positive for the condition ( p for trend = 0.27). Overall, those who reported douching with water only (AOR = 1.03, 95%CI: 0.94-1.13) and those who reported inserting other substances (AOR= 0.98, 95%CI: 0.88-1.09) in the past quarter were not more likely to have bacterial vaginosis compared to those who reported no insertions. However, in South Africa, an increase in bacterial vaginosis was seen among those who reported inserting other substances (AOR: 1.48, 95%CI: 1.17, 1.88). In conclusion, targeted counseling against vaginal hygiene practices resulted in change in self-reported behavior but did not have an impact on bacterial vaginosis diagnosis in all but one site.
Keywords: Vaginal hygiene practices; bacterial vaginosis; counselling.