High Levels of Inflammatory Cytokines in the Reproductive Tract of Women with BV and Engaging in Intravaginal Douching: A Cross-Sectional Study of Participants in the Women Interagency HIV Study

Maria L. Alcaide, Violeta J. Rodriguez, Megan R. Brown, Suresh Pallikkuth, Kristopher Arheart, Octavio Martinez, Margaret Roach, Raina N. Fichorova, Deborah L. Jones, Savita Pahwa, Margaret A. Fischl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

10 Scopus citations


High levels of inflammatory cytokines in the genital tract suggest mucosal vulnerability and increased risk of HIV and sexually transmitted infection (STI) acquisition. Intravaginal douching is associated with bacterial vaginosis (BV) in women in the United States, and both douching and BV are linked to HIV and STI acquisition. This study evaluates inflammatory cytokines in the genital tract to increase understanding of the effects of both BV and intravaginal douching to the vaginal mucosa. A cross-sectional study of participants in the Miami WIHS investigated 72 reproductive age women (45 HIV+ and 27 high-risk HIV-) who completed intravaginal douching questionnaires and underwent collection of vaginal swabs and cervicovaginal lavages (CVLs). BV was assessed using the Nugent score. Inflammatory cytokines in the CVLs (interleukin [IL]-6, IL-8, IL-1α, IL-1β, soluble intracellular adhesion molecule-1 [sICAM-1], interferon [IFN]α2, chemokine C ligand 5 (CCL5), vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), monocyte chemotactic protein-1 (MCP1), tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFα), and secretory leukocyte protease inhibitor [SLPI]) were measured. Fourteen (19%) women reported intravaginal douching; 24 (33%) had BV. BV, intravaginal douching, and HIV were associated with higher levels of inflammatory cytokines. After controlling for demographic and risk factors and HIV status, women who had BV and douched had higher levels of inflammatory cytokines than those without BV and who did not douche, or who only had BV or only douched. These findings suggest that BV and douching are associated with greater mucosal inflammation and may facilitate HIV acquisition and transmission. Although longitudinal studies are needed to determine temporal associations and causality, interventions to decrease rates of intravaginal douching and BV could significantly decrease women's risks of acquiring STIs and HIV and limit the spread of HIV.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)309-317
Number of pages9
JournalAIDS Research and Human Retroviruses
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017



  • bacterial vaginosis
  • genital cytokines
  • vaginal douches
  • women and HIV

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Virology
  • Infectious Diseases

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