Each vagina is a unique environment, that's why treating an infected one requires a very personal approach. That's why a team at the University of Idaho has made a major advance in the study of the normal vaginal biology so that physicians can better detect conditions that make women vulnerable to infections and other diseases.
"Women suffer from insidious health problems, including bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections, and those problems send them in droves to seek medical treatment. Unfortunately, prescribed treatments aren't necessarily effective because doctors don't understand distinctive differences in the microbial composition of the vagina among women," said Larry Forney, a professor of biology at the University of Idaho.
The interdisciplinary team discovered that the microbial ecosystem of the human vagina varies greatly, fact that can turn some women vulnerable to many infections, including sexually transmitted diseases, like HIV or syphilis, based on the investigation made on a representative sample of Caucasian and black women in North America.
This is the first study detecting the existence of at least eight types of bacterial communities in healthy vaginas, each community being distinct, and, among them, some are confined just to one or the other racial group.
"Understanding the differences between these normal vaginal communities is the key to developing effective treatment and keeping women healthy. For example, with this new insight into the vaginal ecosystem, we will be able to better understand a woman's risk to disease and individual health care needs, and assist doctors and women to make more informed decisions about health issues and treatment plans," said Forney.
"It's important for us to understand that the bacterial landscape in vaginas is different in different women and that's normal. Every speck of the human body has bacteria and those bacteria, including bacteria in the vagina, play a role in maintaining the body's health." he added.
"A healthy vagina is populated with lactic acid-producing bacteria. The environment maintains a low pH balance that inhibits the growth of pathogens. A healthy vagina maintains itself and is able to self-correct when minor imbalances occur."
When the vagina's acidity changes significantly, harmful bacteria can boom and provoke infections called bacterial vaginosis; the infection is not well understood and symptoms include several elevated pH levels and vaginal discharge. It makes women extremely vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections, like HIV.
This research could also explain why some women have recurrent vaginal yeast infections, while others are totally immune to this fungus; and also racial differences concerning vulnerability to various vagina infections. "Differences in the kinds of bacteria normally present in the vagina might mean that vaginal odor is normal for some women and not an indication of an underlying health problem," said Forney.