Some have higher risk of chlamydia due to vaginal bacteria

Higher levels of a particular bacteria in a woman’s healthy vagina may increase her risk of contracting chlamydia.

This study follows previous research showing that women that are susceptible to bacterial vaginosis, caused by bacterial imbalances, were also more likely to get HIV.

Researchers at VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, Netherlands, collected vaginal swabs from 122 healthy women.

They then determined the women’s bacterial profiles, or microbiota, breaking down how much of each kind of bacteria existed in each woman’s healthy vagina.

Of the 61 women that tested positively for chlamydia a year later, those whose bacterial profiles had more of one bacteria, called Lactobacillus iners (L. iners), were more likely to have been infected.

About one in every 20 women between ages 14 and 20 has chlamydia, according to the CDC. A new study suggests that a higher prevalence of a lactobacillus iners in a woman’s healthy bacterial flora may be linked to her vulnerability to contract chlamydia

There are about 80 different types of bacteria that thrive in and help to maintain a healthy vagina. 

Before a woman has gone through menopause, most of these bacteria are part of the lactobacillus family.

L. iners is one of most common varieties, alongside L. crispatus, L. gasseri, L. jenesenii.

A healthy vagina has a pH in the acidic range. Lactobacilli help to maintain that range by producing lactic acid. 

Every woman’s bacterial composition is somewhat different, and fluctuates with age, hormone levels, environment, and the menstrual cycle.

But according to this study, published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections, between two women of similar ages, ethnicities and sexual safety habits, the one with more L. iners is more likely to get chlamydia. 

Scientists have long known that keeping the balance of bacteria in the vagina relatively stable is important to the prevention of infections like bacterial vaginosis (BV) or yeast infections. 

What’s more, previous studies have shown that women that were more likely to get BV were also at greater risk to contract HIV.  

It’s important to note that these imbalances and BV are not themselves STIs, says Dr Alyssa Dweck, a gynecologist in Carmel, New York and author of The Complete A to Z Guide to Your V. 

However, ‘any change might cause microabrasions, which can give access for STIs,’ Dr Dweck adds. 

The vaginal flora are in constant flux, but avoiding strong products, overuse of antibiotics and potent substances like spermicide can throw the vagina’s balance out whack, and out of that acidic range.

Instead, women should let their vaginas regulate themselves, and encourage healthy bacteria production by wearing breathable fabrics and maintaining healthy diets that aren’t too heavy in sugar or alcohol. 

Lactobacilli (pictured) are the most common type of bacteria in a woman's vagina, and lactobacillus iners is one of the bacteria's most common variations. Lactobacilli help maintain the vagina's pH by producing lactic acid, but any imbalance can leave the vagina more vulnerable to infection 

Lactobacilli (pictured) are the most common type of bacteria in a woman’s vagina, and lactobacillus iners is one of the bacteria’s most common variations. Lactobacilli help maintain the vagina’s pH by producing lactic acid, but any imbalance can leave the vagina more vulnerable to infection 

But, the reality is that ‘some women can do anything, and others can treat the area with kid gloves and still have problems,’ says Dr Dweck. 

It’s unclear yet why the prevalence of this particular bacteria is correlated with a higher incidence of chlamydia, but disruptions to vaginal flora can lead to those microabrasions.

These essentially weaken or break the mucus membrane that protects the interior wall of the vagina. These breaks in the protective layer leave it more vulnerable to chlamydia and other STIs. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that chlamydia occurs most commonly in young men and women and estimates that about one in every 20 sexually active women between ages 14 and 24 has the STI.

Using a condom can, of course, help protect against chlamydia, especially if you are having sex with multiple partners, which increases the risk of contraction. 

Many people do not show symptoms, which is one of the reasons chlamydia is so common. Fortunately, it chlamydia is easily treated with antibiotics and usually goes away in a matter of days.

With additional research, this new finding could help scientists to ‘determine whether the vaginal microbiota can contribute to susceptibility to or protection against STIs,’ wrote study author Dr Robin van Houdt.