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article imageCan bacteria block HIV infection between mother and child?

By Tim Sandle     Oct 12, 2015 in Health
Women with HIV can pass on the virus to their children when they are pregnant. This doesn’t happen in all cases and one reason could be composition of vaginal bacteria.
New research reveals that Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) particles can be trapped in the cervicovaginal mucus of women who have high levels of a particular type of bacteria. The bacterium is called Lactobacillus crispatus.
In terms of mother-to-baby infections the mucosal surfaces are the main area where infections take place. Cervicovaginal mucus can function as a barrier to stop pathogens from reaching the vaginal walls. Research carried out at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has found the effectiveness of these barrier properties differ considerably from woman to woman and also vary at different times in the same woman.
The cause of this variation is microbial in nature. Whether viral particles became trapped or moved freely was attributable to the population of Lactobacillus bacteria. The trapping mechanism correlated with levels of D-lactic acid, which is a by-product of the growing organisms.
Further study showed that the effect was not down to this genus of bacteria in general, but it rested on a specific species: L. crispatus. In fact the studies showed that a high population of a different species of Lactobacillus, called L. iners, actually led to an increase in the risk of mother-to-baby HIV transfer.
The findings are based on a small study. Thirty-one women of child bearing age were sampled and the mucus samples were subjected to a series of sophisticate laboratory tests. While the findings were conclusive, further study will need to be carried out.
The implications of the research are that it could lead to a new way to block the viral transmission of HIV from mother to child. This mechanism could be extended out to other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
The key will be finding ways to add high quantities of L. crispatus into the appropriate site in the body and then finding ways to encourage it to survive.
The findings are published in the journal mBio. The paper is titled “Enhanced Trapping of HIV-1 by Human Cervicovaginal Mucus Is Associated with Lactobacillus crispatus-Dominant Microbiota.”
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