Women could be at greater risk of getting HIV because their vaginal bacteria can break down HIV prevention drugs, new research has found.
Oral pre-exposure prophylactic (PrEP) drugs are highly effective at preventing HIV infection in men, but are much less effective in women, according to a study published in PLOS Pathogens on Friday.
Nichole Klatt and colleagues at the University of Minnesota used samples from women with and without bacterial vaginosis - a highly common syndrome in women that is caused by bacteria.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a type of vaginal inflammation caused by the imbalance of 'good' and 'harmful' bacteria in the vagina.
They found that the bacteria associated with BV can metabolise PrEP drugs and may potentially reduce its efficiency.
"Healthy Lactobacillus bacteria in the vagina are critical for women's health, but the accumulation of additional bacterial genera can imbalance the vaginal ecosystem," the study reads. "Such an imbalance may result in bacterial metabolism of drugs designed to prevent HIV infection, thereby decreasing their effectiveness and enhancing risks to women."
"Women's health, and factors that contribute to health and disease prevention in women are grossly understudied," Dr Klatt said.
She said the study demonstrates the need for better measurements and treatments for bacterial vaginosis and in general, women's health.