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Increased Risk Of HIV Transmission Following Vaginal Washing

A ten-year study conducted at Kenya has projected alarming results that the practice of internal vaginal washing among sex workers can increase the risk of contracting HIV virus by a margin of three. // This further moves on to a 4 times increased risk if detergents are used for the same according to Washington University researchers. The results of this research can be found in Aids journal, the official journal of the International Aids Society.

This is more likely to happen as vigorous internal washing of the vagina can lead to an inflammation, paving chances for increased likelihood of transmission. This finding is very valuable because a majority of the women wrongly believe that washing could prevent or get rid of infections if any.

This only throws light on the use of condoms and the concept of safe sex, the only method to prevent AIDS/HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. It further highlights the need for effective measures to prevent HIV infection, particularly in women.

The researchers, a part of the Washington University's International Aids Research and Training Programme, interviewed more than 1000 women regarding their risk of acquiring HIV infection, over a decade. A high prevalence of internal vaginal washing was found amongst the study participants (1/3), majority of them from sub-Saharan Africa.

“This is the first prospective study to demonstrate a significant association between vaginal washing and HIV acquisition. A causal association between vaginal washing and HIV acquisition seems biologically plausible”, said Dr Scott McClelland, author of the study. He further stressed on the need for a balance between the use of culturally acceptable practices such as these with respect to the clinical arena.

"The vaginal lining is sensitive and easily damaged and the body's natural protection to some infections may be washed away. This means there's a greater chance that HIV or other sexually transmitted infections may be passed on. In an ideal world women would be educated about these risks and have access to condoms. Sadly, that kind of education is unavailable in many parts of Africa”, said Rod Watson, deputy head of health promotion at HIV/Aids charity Terrence Higgins Trust.

“Vaginal washing is commonplace in Africa and we need to understand how all intravaginal practices affect HIV transmission. The behavioral practices and cultural beliefs that lead to vaginal washing need to be better understood before any work to include the results of this study into prevention programmes on the ground can occur”, concluded Robin Brady, Chief Executive of HIV charity.

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