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Probiotics: Potential to Prevent HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Women

Bolton, Michael MD, PhD*; van der Straten, Ariane PhD; Cohen, Craig R. MD, MPH

Sexually Transmitted Diseases: March 2008 - Volume 35 - Issue 3 - p 214-225
doi: 10.1097/OLQ.0b013e31815b017a
Review

Women are at significant risk of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and sexually transmitted infection (STI) acquisition with the genital mucosa serving as the main portal of infection. Exogenously supplied lactobacillus used as a probiotic may prove a cost-effective, female-initiated method to prevent HIV and STI infection in women. A probiotic may act indirectly through treating and preventing recurrent bacterial vaginosis or directly by secreting endogenous (e.g., hydrogen peroxide) and exogenous substances that block HIV and STI transmission. This review summarizes the preclinical and clinical studies that have been conducted so far to test probiotic bacteria for these purposes. Although significant progress has been made in this field, more fundamental research is required to better understand vaginal ecology to maximize probiotic formulations. Once identified, a suitable product will require testing in a well-designed, randomized, placebo-controlled trial to measure its effectiveness in augmenting antibiotic treatment to prevent bacterial vaginosis. If results from such a trial demonstrate efficacy, future studies should be designed to determine whether a probiotic can significantly lower the risk for HIV and STIs in at-risk female populations.

This review summarizes the preclinical and clinical studies that have been conducted so far to test probiotic bacteria for the prevention of human immunodeficiency virus and sexually transmitted infections in women.

From the *Department of Medicine, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia; and †Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, University of California, San Francisco, California

Correspondence: Craig R Cohen, MD, MPH, 50 Beale Street, Suite 1200, San Francisco, CA 94117. E-mail: ccohen@globalhealth.ucsf.edu.

Received for publication February 2, 2007, and accepted September 12, 2007.

© Copyright 2008 American Sexually Transmitted Diseases Association