Women's Health

Healthy Vaginal Bacteria Unique to Each Woman

A healthy vagina depends on the right balance of microorganisms - but new research has found that this balance differs from woman to woman. This may help tailor treatment for vaginal infections.

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"In the practice of medicine, all women have been considered pretty much the same when it comes to vaginal microbiota, with the same treatment," says study senior author Jacques Ravel, Ph.D., at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.

Typically, that has meant prescribing antibiotics for all bacterial infections of the vagina.

"In some people [treatments] work really well, and in some they fail," Dr. Ravel says. "Now we know it's because not all women are made equal."

Specific bacteria

Dr. Ravel and his colleagues previously had identified five basic "communities" of bacteria that live in the vagina. These communities vary by a woman's ethnic background.

For the new study, published in the journal Transitional Medicine, the researchers collected vaginal samples from 32 healthy women of childbearing age. They took samples twice a week for four months.

After analyzing the bacteria, the researchers found that the bacterial communities fluctuate in some women and stay the same in others. The communities also change throughout a woman's menstrual cycle. Dr. Ravel speculates that the vaginal bacteria may change with diet and environment, as well.

Impact of changes

The fluctuating vaginal bacteria may make some women more vulnerable to infection.

"Bacterial vaginosis is linked to transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, so this is a potentially significant risk factor for acquiring sexually transmitted diseases," says Stephen Dewhurst, Ph.D., at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York.

Vaginal bacteria also can affect pregnancy and fertility. The composition of vaginal microbiota and of a man's sperm could mean that a woman is fertile with one man and infertile with another.

"We need to rethink the way we approach women's health and treatment and diagnosis," Dr. Ravel says.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

American Academy of Family Physicians - Vaginal Discharge

CDC - Bacterial Vaginosis

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Vaginitis

July 2012

What Is Vaginitis?

Vaginitis means any inflammation or infection of the vagina. This is a common problem for women of all ages. A third of women have at least one bout of vaginitis at some time during their life.

When the walls of the vagina become inflamed, because some irritant has disturbed the balance of the vaginal area, vaginitis can occur.

The most common types of vaginitis are:

  • Candida or "yeast" infection

  • Bacterial vaginosis

  • Trichomoniasis vaginitis

  • Chlamydia vaginitis

  • Gonococcal vaginitis

  • Viral vaginitis

  • Noninfectious vaginitis

Each of these types of infection has a different cause and can have different symptoms. This can make it hard for your doctor to diagnose which one you have. Also, you may have more than one type of vaginitis at the same time, with or without symptoms.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

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