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Original research
Impact of point-of-care testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infections and bacterial vaginosis on genital tract inflammatory cytokines in a cohort of young South African women
  1. Nigel Garrett1,2,
  2. Andile Mtshali1,3,
  3. Farzana Osman1,
  4. Lindi Masson1,4,
  5. Lyle R McKinnon1,5,
  6. Ravesh Singh3,6,
  7. Nireshni Mitchev3,
  8. Hope Ngobese7,
  9. Ayesha B M Kharsany1,2,
  10. Salim Abdool Karim1,8,
  11. Koleka Mlisana3,6,
  12. Jo-Ann Passmore1,4,9,
  13. Anne Rompalo10,
  14. Adrian Mindel1,
  15. Lenine Liebenberg1,3
  1. 1 Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), Durban, South Africa
  2. 2 School of Nursing and Public Health, Discipline of Public Health Medicine, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa
  3. 3 Department of Microbiology, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa
  4. 4 Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
  5. 5 Department of Medical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
  6. 6 National Health Laboratory Service, Durban, South Africa
  7. 7 Prince Cyril Zulu Communicable Disease Centre, eThekwini Municipality, Durban, South Africa
  8. 8 Department of Epidemiology, Columbia University, New York City, NY, USA
  9. 9 National Health Laboratory Service, Cape Town, South Africa
  10. 10 School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Nigel Garrett, Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), Durban, South Africa; nigel.garrett{at}


Objectives STIs cause inflammation that is detrimental for both HIV risk and reproductive health. We assessed the impact of point-of-care (POC) STI testing, immediate treatment and expedited partner therapy (EPT) on genital tract cytokines among a cohort of young South African women.

Methods HIV-negative women underwent POC testing for Chlamydia trachomatis (CT), Neisseria gonorrhoeae (NG) and Trichomonas vaginalis (TV) by Xpert CT/NG and OSOM TV, and for bacterial vaginosis (BV) by microscopy. Women with STIs and/or BV received immediate treatment, EPT for STIs and retested after 6 and 12 weeks. Concentrations of 48 cytokines were measured in cervicovaginal fluid at each visit using multiplex ELISA technology. The impact of STI treatment on cytokine concentrations was assessed by multivariable linear mixed models and principal component analysis.

Results The study enrolled 251 women with median age of 23 years (IQR 21–27). The prevalence of CT, NG and TV were 14.3%, 4.4% and 4.0%, and 34.3% had BV. Women with STIs or BV at baseline (n=94) had significantly higher concentrations of pro-inflammatory cytokines (interleukin (IL)-1α, IL-1β, IL-6, tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-α, TNF-β, IL-18 and macrophage inflammatory factor (MIF)) and chemokines (IL-8, IL-16, macrophage inflammatory protein (MIP)-1α, IFN-α2, monokine induced by gamma interferon (MIG), monocyte chemoattractant protein (MCP)-3, regulated on activation normal T cell expressed and secreted and eotaxin) compared with women without (n=157). STI treatment was strongly associated with reduced concentrations of pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-6 (p=0.004), IL-1β (p=0.013), TNF-α (p=0.018) and chemokines MIG (p=0.008) and growth-related oncogene (GRO)-α (p=0.025). A lower Nugent score was associated with a reduction in pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-1α (p=0.003), TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (p=0.004), MIF (p=0.010) and IL-18 (p<0.001), but an increase in chemokines MIG (p=0.020), GRO-α (p<0.001), IP-10 (p<0.001), MIP-1β (p=0.008) and MCP-1 (p=0.005). Principal component analysis showed differences in STI and BV-related inflammatory profiles, but that resolution restored a profile consistent with vaginal health.

Conclusions A comprehensive STI intervention effectively reduced genital inflammation among young women, thereby improving vaginal health and potentially reducing HIV risk.

  • clinical STI care
  • inflammation
  • point of care
  • testing

Data availability statement

Data are available on reasonable request.

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Data availability statement

Data are available on reasonable request.

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  • Handling editor Bea Vuylsteke

  • Twitter @nigegarrett

  • Contributors NG, AMi, AR and LL designed the study and are responsible for the overall content of the manuscript. NG and HN supervised the clinical cohort. NG, AMt, RS, NM, KM and LL conducted the laboratory studies. NG, AMt, FO, LM, LRM and LL conducted the statistical analysis. NG drafted the manuscript and all authors critically reviewed and approved the final submitted version.

  • Funding The study was funded by a US-South African Program for Collaborative Biomedical Research grant through the South African Medical Research Council and the US National Institute of Health (AI116759). AMt was funded by the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in HIV Prevention, which is supported by the Department of Science and Innovation, and the National Research Foundation. LL is funded by a SANTHE Path to Independence award, and by a FLAIR Fellowship supported by the African Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.