Women who douched may have a greater risk for human papillomavirus (HPV) infection than those who do not, according to the results of a study published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases.1

Thanh C. Bui, MD, PhD, an instructor in the department of Behavioral Science at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas and the study’s lead author noted that after controlling for relevant covariates, women who had douched in the previous 6 months were more likely to be infected with both a higher number of all types of HPV genotypes (RR=1.26; 95% CI, 1.03 to 1.54) and a higher number of HPV genotypes that are linked with cancer (RR=1.40, 95% CI, 1.09 to 1.80).

The association appeared to be independent from other risk factors for HPV infection, and researchers did not note any association between HPV prevalence and any other feminine hygiene product.


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To assess whether douching, defined as putting a substance into the vagina either for routine cleansing or for vaginal irritation or signs of infection, increased risk for HPV infection, the researchers analyzed data on 1271 women aged 20 to 49 years collected in the 2003-2004 US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

The researchers noted that 23% of women in the study had douched at least once in the previous 6 months. Weighted prevalence of any type of genital HPV DNA was 48.6%. Among women who had any-type genital HPV DNA except types 6 and 11, 40.5%  had 1 high-risk type, 16.2%, had 2 high-risk types, and 9.1% had 3 to 6 high-risk types.

In an email interview with Infectious Disease Advisor, Dr Bui explained that it is yet not clear whether frequency and/or timing of douching had any importance.

“Although frequency of douching was associated with a higher number of HPV types in bivariate analysis, the association was not statistically significant in multivariable analysis. We cannot have a firm conclusion on this,” he wrote.

Dr Bui and colleagues noted that longitudinal studies are needed to examine whether douching, particularly with specific solutions, is associated with HPV infection and long-term outcomes like non-regression cervical intraepithelial neoplasia.

Reference

1.     Bui TC, Thai TN, Tran T, et al. Association between vaginal douching and genital human papillomavirus infection among women in the United States. J Infect Dis. 2016. doi: 10.1093/infdis/jiw388.