HIV infection and vaginal douching in central Africa

AIDS. 1997 Jan;11(1):101-6. doi: 10.1097/00002030-199701000-00015.


Objective: To determine whether vaginal douching is associated with HIV infection.

Methods: A total of 397 female patients who attended the referral clinic for sexually transmitted diseases in Bangui, Central African Republic, from August 1994 to February 1995, were interviewed regarding sexual behavior, sexual history, and vaginal douching during the previous 3 years. Pelvic examinations were conducted and vaginal and cervical fluids evaluated for genital infections. Blood was drawn for HIV and syphilis serologic testing.

Results: The seroprevalence of HIV infection in the study population was 34%. Twenty-one per cent of the 115 HIV-seropositive women had a consistent practice of douching with commercial antiseptics versus 35% of the 223 HIV-seronegative women [odds ratio (OR), 0.6; 95% confidence interval (CI), 0.4-0.9; after adjusting for lifetime number of sexual partners, marital status, and condom use]. In contrast, a higher percentage of HIV-seropositive than HIV-seronegative women had a consistent practice of douching with a non-commercial preparation (14.8 versus 6.7%; adjusted OR, 1.7; 95% CI, 1.0-3.0).

Conclusion: Our results suggest that vaginal douching with non-commercial preparations is associated with an increased prevalence of HIV, whereas douching with commercial antiseptic preparations was associated with a lower prevalence of HIV. The findings from this cross-sectional survey require confirmation in prospective studies.

PIP: Previous research has suggested that frequent vaginal douching modifies vaginal flora and increases the risk of cervical infections -- a probable risk factor for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). To assess the association between HIV infection and vaginal douching, 397 women attending a sexually transmitted disease clinic in Bangui, Central African Republic, during 1994-95 were interviewed regarding their sexual behavior and vaginal douching practices in the preceding 3 years. The overall HIV prevalence rate was 34%. Douching, primarily for hygiene or treatment of a vaginal discharge, was reported by 195 women (49%); its mean weekly frequency was 7 times. A commercial antiseptic was used by 140 women (72%); 48 (25%) used a noncommercial preparation (largely herbs) and 7 (3%) used water. The analysis was restricted to women who used commercial or noncommercial preparations at least once a week (104 and 32 women, respectively). 25 (21.7%) of the 115 HIV-positive women reported use of commercial antiseptics compared with 79 (35.4%) of seronegative women (odds ratio, 0.6; 95% confidence interval, 0.4-0.9 after adjustment for condom use, lifetime number of sexual partners, and marital status). Use of noncommercial preparations was reported by 17 (14.8%) seropositive and 15 (6.7%) seronegative women (adjusted odds ratio, 1.7; 95% confidence interval, l.0-3.0). Although these findings should be considered preliminary, it is speculated that the antifungal and bacteriostatic properties of commercial antiseptics used after sexual intercourse may reduce the inoculum of HIV through a flushing mechanism or reduce the frequency of sexually transmitted diseases that serve as co-factors for HIV infection. Moreover, the agents used in noncommercial preparations may irritate vaginal mucosa, enhancing HIV transmission.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Africa, Central
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • HIV Seronegativity
  • HIV Seropositivity*
  • HIV Seroprevalence
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Therapeutic Irrigation
  • Vagina*