Genital ulcer disease treatment for reducing sexual acquisition of HIV

The presence of a genital ulcer would provide an entry point for the HIV virus if an HIV-negative individual with an ulcer has unprotected sexual intercourse with an HIV-infected person. Treatment of the condition causing the genital ulcer would allow the ulcer to heal and therefore reduce the chances of HIV acquisition. This review assessed whether giving treatment for diseases that present with ulcers in the genital region would reduce sexual acquisition of HIV. Three studies were identified involving 173 HIV-negative patients with genital ulcers. These studies did not provide sufficient evidence that treatment of genital ulcer diseases reduces sexual acquisition of HIV infection. However, genital ulcer diseases are public health problems in their own right and patients with these conditions should be treated appropriately; whether the treatment reduces the risk of HIV infection or not.

Authors' conclusions: 

At present, there is insufficient evidence to determine whether curative treatment of genital ulcer disease would reduce the risk of HIV acquisition. The very low quality of the evidence implies that the true effect of genital ulcer disease treatment on sexual acquisition of HIV may be substantially different from the effect estimated from currently available data. However, genital ulcer diseases are public health problems in their own right and patients with these conditions should be treated appropriately; whether the treatment reduces the risk of HIV infection or not.

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Genital ulcer disease by virtue of disruption of the mucosal surfaces may enhance HIV acquisition. Genital ulcer disease treatment with resolution of the ulcers may therefore contribute in reducing the sexual acquisition of HIV.


To determine the effects of treatment of genital ulcer disease on sexual acquisition of HIV.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), PubMed, EMBASE, LILACS, NLM Gateway, Web of Science, WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform,, and reference lists of relevant publications for eligible studies published between 1980 and August 2011.

Selection criteria: 

Randomized controlled trials of any treatment intervention aimed at curing genital ulcer disease compared with an alternative treatment, placebo, or no treatment. We included only trials whose unit of randomization was the individual with confirmed genital ulcer.

Data collection and analysis: 

We independently selected studies and extracted data in duplicate; resolving discrepancies by discussion, consensus, and arbitration by third review author. We expressed study results as risk ratios (RR) with 95% confidence intervals (CI).

Main results: 

There were three randomized controlled trials that met our inclusion criteria recruited HIV-negative participants with chancroid (two trials with 143 participants) and primary syphilis (one trial with 30 participants). The syphilis study, carried out in the US between 1995 and 1997, randomized participants to receive a single 2.0 g oral dose of azithromycin (11 participants); two 2.0 g oral doses of azithromycin administered six to eight days apart (eight participants); or benzathine penicillin G administered as either 2.4 million units intramuscular injection once or twice seven days apart (11 participants). No participant in the trial seroconverted during 12 months of follow-up. The chancroid trials, conducted in Kenya by 1990, found no significant differences in HIV seroconversion rates during four to 12 weeks of follow-up between 400 and 200 mg single oral doses of fleroxacin (one trial, 45 participants; RR 3.00; 95% CI 0.29 to 30.69), or between 400 mg fleroxacin and 800 mg sulfamethoxazole plus 160 mg trimethoprim (one trial, 98 participants; RR 0.33; 95% CI 0.04 to 3.09). Adverse events reported were mild to moderate in severity, and included Jarisch-Herxheimer reactions and gastrointestinal symptoms. The differences between the treatment arms in the incidence of adverse events were not significant. The quality of this evidence on the effectiveness of genital ulcer disease treatment in reducing sexual acquisition of HIV, according to GRADE methodology, is of very low quality.