Intravaginal Practices, Vaginal Infections and HIV Acquisition: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
Intravaginal practices are commonly used by women to manage their vaginal health and sexual life. These practices could, however, affect intravaginal mucosal integrity. The objectives of this study were to examine evidence for associations between: intravaginal practices and acquisition of HIV infection; intravaginal practices and vaginal infections; and vaginal infections and HIV acquisition. We conducted a systematic review of prospective longitudinal studies, searching 15 electronic databases of journals and abstracts from two international conferences to 31st January 2008. Relevant articles were selected and data extracted in duplicate. Results were examined visually in forest plots and combined using random effects meta-analysis where appropriate. Of 2120 unique references we included 22 publications from 15 different studies in sub-Saharan Africa and the USA. Seven publications from five studies examined a range of intravaginal practices and HIV infection. No specific vaginal practices showed a protective effect against HIV or vaginal infections. Insertion of products for sex was associated with HIV in unadjusted analyses; only one study gave an adjusted estimate, which showed no association (hazard ratio 1.09, 95% confidence interval, CI 0.71, 1.67). HIV incidence was higher in women reporting intravaginal cleansing but confidence intervals were wide and heterogeneity high (adjusted hazard ratio 1.88, 95%CI 0.53, 6.69, I2 83.2%). HIV incidence was higher in women with bacterial vaginosis (adjusted effect 1.57, 95%CI 1.26, 1.94, I2 19.0%) and Trichomonas vaginalis (adjusted effect 1.64, 95%CI 1.28, 2.09, I2 0.0%). A pathway linking intravaginal cleaning practices with vaginal infections that increase susceptibility to HIV infection is plausible but conclusive evidence is lacking. Intravaginal practices do not appear to protect women from vaginal infections or HIV and some might be harmful.