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HIV Risk Could Be Influenced by Bacteria in Your Gut

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Further research could lead to massive changes in HIV prevention.

New research led by the University of California, Los Angeles suggests that certain gut bacteria — including an essential one for a healthy gut microbiome — differs between people who go on to acquire HIV as compared to those who do not.

Originally published in the peer-reviewed eBioMedicine journal, the findings suggest that the gut microbiome could contribute to one’s risk for HIV infection.

“This is an important area that needs further research to better understand if and how these bacteria could affect HIV transmission. Microbiome-based therapies are becoming a hot area of research with great potential. With further research this could be a novel way to help in HIV prevention,” Dr. Jennifer Fulcher, study lead and assistant professor of medicine, division of infectious diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, said in a statement.

While there is already a known link between chronic HIV and changes in gut bacteria, the new study aims to gain a better understanding of the changes that take place after HIV infection.

The researchers took gut microbiome samples from 27 men who have sex with men both before and after HIV infection. These samples were compared with 28 other men at similar behavioral risk, but who did not have HIV.

Although the research showed little change in the infected men’s gut bacteria, they also found that the men who had acquired HIV had pre-existing differences in gut bacteria prior to infection. They also discovered that the men who contracted HIV had elevated inflammatory cytokines and bioactive lipids. This indicated that their bodies were constantly on the defense against infection or injury.

The study’s limitations were influenced by the relatively small sample size, as well as the focus being on men who have sex with men. As most of those men were also drug users, it may reduce the study’s generalizability to other populations.

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Andrew J. Stillman

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