Background: Female sex workers (FSWs) are at high risk for gender-based violence (GBV) and HIV infection. This study aimed to identify associations between GBV exposure in the past 12 months and biomarkers of physiologic stress and inflammation that may play a role in increased HIV risk among Kenyan FSWs. Materials and Methods: Participating women responded to a detailed questionnaire on GBV and mental health. Plasma was collected for assessment of systemic C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 (IL-6) levels. Hair proximal to the scalp was collected to measure cortisol concentration. CRP and IL-6 were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, and hair cortisol concentration was determined by enzyme immunoassay. Log-transformed biomarker values were compared across GBV exposure categories using Kruskal-Wallis or Wilcoxon rank sum tests. Multivariable linear regression was used to explore associations between recent GBV and hair cortisol concentration. Results: Two hundred eighty-three women enrolled, of whom 112 (39.6%) reported physical, sexual, or emotional violence in the past 12 months, 134 (47.3%) reported more remote exposure, and 37 (13.1%) reported no exposure. CRP and IL-6 levels did not differ across groups (p=0.57 and p=0.62, respectively). Among 141 women who provided hair, cortisol concentrations were higher among recently exposed women compared to the other two groups combined (p=0.02). In multivariable regression, recently exposed women had higher hair cortisol levels than remotely exposed or unexposed women (adjusted beta=0.52, 95% confidence interval 0.02-1.02, p=0.04). Conclusions: While CRP and IL-6 levels did not differ by GBV category, recent GBV was associated with increased hair cortisol concentration. GBV-related increases in cortisol could affect health outcomes and merit study in relation to HIV acquisition risk.
Gender-based violence, physiological stress, and inflammation
A cross-sectional study
Heller, M., Roberts, S. T., Masese, L., Ngina, J., Chohan, N., Chohan, V., Shafi, J., McClelland, R. S., Brindle, E., & Graham, S. M. (2018). Gender-based violence, physiological stress, and inflammation: A cross-sectional study. Journal of Women's Health, 27(9), 1152-1161. https://doi.org/10.1089/jwh.2017.6743