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Study Redefines What a Healthy Vagina Is
Date:5/2/2012

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, May 2 (HealthDay News) -- Bacteria that live normally in the vagina differ from woman to woman and can even change dramatically in short periods of time in the same woman, a new analysis reveals.

The findings are likely to alter the one-size-fits-all diagnosis and treatment of vaginal infections that currently prevails among obstetricians and gynecologists.

"This certainly changes the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of vaginosis (bacterial infection in the vagina)," said Stephen Dewhurst, chairman of microbiology and immunology at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York. "Among other things, this makes vaginosis much harder to diagnose. If [vaginal bacteria] change over time, how sure are you that this really is vaginosis?"

Dewhurst was not involved with the study, which appears in the May 2 issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine.

"In the practice of medicine, all women have been considered pretty much the same when it comes to vaginal microbiota, with the same treatment," said study senior author Jacques Ravel, an associate professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. Antibiotics typically are prescribed to treat vaginosis.

"In some people [treatments] work really well, and in some they fail," said Ravel, who also is associate director of the university's Institute for Genome Sciences. "Now we know it's because not all women are made equal."

Prior research by the same group had identified five basic microbial communities in the vagina. The researchers also found that these communities tended to vary according to ethnicity.

The balance of microbial communities is vital in protecting women from infections, including sexually transmitted diseases.

But bacterial vaginosis -- when one type of bacteria thrives and dominates other types, which
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