Tips from Other Journals

Can Vaginal Lactobacilli Reduce the Risk of STDs?



FREE PREVIEW Log in or buy this issue to read the full article. AAFP members and paid subscribers get free access to all articles. Subscribe now.


FREE PREVIEW Subscribe or buy this issue. AAFP members and paid subscribers get free access to all articles.

Am Fam Physician. 2000 May 15;61(10):3139-3140.

The normal vaginal flora is dominated by Lactobacillus species, which produce substances that help control the growth of pathogens. Bacterial vaginosis is a clinical condition that results in a decrease of the Lactobacillus species and an increased growth of anaerobic and mycoplasma bacteria. Bacterial vaginosis has been associated with the development of pelvic inflammatory disease and preterm labor. Some studies have suggested that patients with bacterial vaginosis may be at increased risk for acquiring sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. Martin and colleagues examined the association between vaginal flora and the acquisition of HIV and other STDs.

The trial was a prospective cohort study of prostitutes who attended an STD clinic for routine check-ups. Participants were given a structured interview, a physical examination, a pelvic examination and STD screening. They were followed monthly with an interview to discuss interim sexual behavior, condom use and physical symptoms. They were also reassessed at follow-up visits with a physical examination, STD screening and HIV serologic testing. A wet preparation and a potassium hydroxide (KOH) preparation were used to evaluate the vaginal secretions. Vaginal Gram stains and anaerobic cultures were obtained as well.

The study included 657 women. The mean follow-up time was 6.4 months, and the mean number of follow-up visits was three. Lactobacilli bacteria were isolated in 26 percent of women at enrollment and follow-up visits. Bacterial vaginosis was diagnosed in approximately one third of the participants. Normal vaginal flora were present in approximately one third of the participants. The absence of vaginal lactobacilli on culture was associated with an increased risk for acquiring HIV. The presence of abnormal vaginal flora increased the risk for HIV and Trichomonas infections.

The authors conclude that the lack of lactobacilli or the presence of organisms consistent with bacterial vaginosis increases the risk of acquiring HIV and other STDs. The authors note that by treating bacterial vaginosis and developing methods that promote the growth of lactobacilli in the vagina, the acquisition of HIV and STDs in women can be reduced.

Martin HL, et al. Vaginal lactobacilli, microbial flora, and risk of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 and sexually transmitted disease acquisition. J Infect Dis. December 1999;180:1863–8.



Copyright © 2000 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP. Contact afpserv@aafp.org for copyright questions and/or permission requests.

Want to use this article elsewhere? Get Permissions


Article Tools

  • Print page
  • Share this page
  • AFP CME Quiz

Information From Industry

Navigate this Article