According to a study conducted by researchers at RTI International and published in the March 13 issue of AIDS, African women who are infected with a common sexually transmitted bacterial infection called Mycoplasma genitalium are two times more likely to acquire HIV infection.

Sue Napierala Mavedzenge, Ph.D., lead researcher or the study and a research investigator with the Women’s Global Health Imperative at RTI International, said:

“Further research will be required to confirm a causal relationship and to identify risk factors for M. genitalium infection in African populations. If findings from this research are confirmed, M. genitalium screening and treatment among women at high risk for HIV-1 infection may be warranted as part of an HIV-1 prevention strategy.”

M. genitalium is a small parasitic bacterium STD, first identified in 1980. The infection causes inflammatory conditions of the reproductive tract and genitals (urethritis, pelvic inflammatory disease, and cervicitis.) Individuals may be infected with M. genitalium for years without displaying any symptoms. A simple course of antibiotics are a successful cure for M. genitalium.

In order to evaluate the effects of M. genitalium on HIV risk, the researchers examined data from a larger study of HIV acquisition among young women in Uganda and Zimbabwe.

The researchers compared 190 women who became infected with HIV during follow-up to women of a comparable age and risk who were not infected with HIV. The team examined women in both groups for the presence of M. genitalium, which was assessed as a risk factor for HIV infection.

The researchers found that in initial samples when all participants were HIV free, approximately 15% of women who later developed HIV were infected with M. genitalium compared with 6.5% in women who did not develop the disease. Furthermore, the team found that M. genitalium was more prevalent that other bacterial sexually transmitted diseases, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea.

After adjusting for other factors, such as certain other STDs, the team discovered that participants with M. genitalium at the start of the study were two times more likely to acquire HIV.

According to the researchers, M. genitalium was responsible for approximately 9% of all HIV infections occurring in the study. Although, other factors, such as having a partner with HIV risk factors, or the presence of herpes simplex virus 2 (the virus that causes genital herpes), were more strongly linked to HIV risk.

Written by Grace Rattue