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Treatment of sexually transmitted infections for HIV prevention: end of the road or new beginning?

Hayes, Richarda; Watson-Jones, Deborahb; Celum, Conniec; van de Wijgert, Janneked,e; Wasserheit, Judithf,g

doi: 10.1097/01.aids.0000390704.35642.47

Observational and biological data provide compelling evidence of the importance of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in HIV transmission, but only one of nine intervention trials has shown an effect. This article reviews the observational studies, critically examines the nine randomized controlled trials evaluating the impact of STI treatment interventions on HIV incidence, and discusses implications for HIV prevention policy, programs and future research. The role of other vaginal infections is also briefly considered. In aggregate, the evidence strongly supports the concept that STI treatment prevents HIV infection. However, issues in trial design and conduct, including HIV epidemic phase, STI prevalence, intervention in comparison groups, and power have affected five of the six trials of treatment of curable STIs. In the three herpes intervention trials, antivirals for HSV suppression were insufficiently potent to alleviate persistent genital inflammation in HIV-negative HSV2-positive persons, and the reduction in HIV levels in HIV-positive persons was insufficient to reduce HIV transmission. It is time for a new phase of exploration of how, when, and in whom to include STI control as a key component of HIV prevention, driven by basic research to elucidate the mechanisms by which STIs and vaginal infections facilitate HIV transmission. From a policy perspective, treatment of curable STIs is an essential part of primary healthcare and is a cheap, simple, and effective intervention when appropriately targeted and delivered. It should be promoted as an essential component of HIV control programs in communities in which the burden of STIs is substantial.

aMRC Tropical Epidemiology Group, UK

bClinical Research Unit, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, UK

cDepartments of Global Health, Medicine and Epidemiology, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA

dAcademic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

eAmsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

fDepartments of Global Health and Medicine, University of Washington, USA

gClinical Research Division, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, Washington, USA.

Correspondence to Richard Hayes, Professor of Epidemiology and International Health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Keppel Street, London WC1E 7HT, UK. Tel: +44 20 7927 2243; fax: +44 20 7637 4314; e-mail:

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.