Public Release: 

Markers found for bacterial vaginosis

University of Washington

Findings reported in this week's New England Journal of Medicine (November 3 issue) highlight promising findings from two Seattle-based researchers on the origins of bacterial vaginosis (BV).

In a collaborative effort to identify specific bacterial markers for bacterial vaginosis in vaginal-fluid samples, David Fredricks, MD, of the Program in Infectious Diseases, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Jeanne Marrazzo, MD, MPH, of the University of Washington and Harborview Medical Center in Seattle report the detection of three newly recognized bacteria that were highly specific for bacterial vaginosis. Subjects for this study were recruited from Dr. Marrazzo's Vaginal Health Project and from Public Health-Seattle and King County Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Clinic. Although preliminary, the researchers are hopeful that these findings may contribute to identifying the specific cause of and better treatment for the disease.

Bacterial vaginosis is the most common cause of vaginitis, and the most common reason women seek treatment for vaginal symptoms. The cause of BV is not known. In recent years, awareness of the adverse effects of BV has grown markedly. Among pregnant women, BV may cause up to 10% of low-birth weight deliveries, and in several studies has been strongly implicated in increasing women's risks of becoming infected with other STD and with HIV. While it may cause abnormal discharge, odor, and itching, BV often exists without causing any symptoms, and women may not know they have it. BV can be treated with antibiotics but often comes back. For unknown reasons, lesbians and bisexual women apparently have a higher occurrence of BV than heterosexual women.

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Dr. Fredricks' work is funded by a grant by the National Institutes of Health and will continue to expand on these early findings.

Dr. Marrazzo has been awarded funding by the National Institutes of Health for a 5-year study to examine why lesbians and bisexual women frequently experience BV, and to define insights that might help determine the cause of BV in heterosexual women. The investigators are also studying ways to prevent BV from recurring in these women.

The study, the Vaginal Health Project, began recruiting participants in October, 2003 at HMC Women's Research Clinic at 600 Broadway, Seattle, and over 200 women have been enrolled to date. Participation is open to women both with and without BV. Women may be eligible if:

  • they are 16 to 35 years old
  • they have had sex with another woman anytime in the last year
  • they are not pregnant
  • they are capable of providing informed written consent

Participants receive screening and treatment for vaginitis and are paid for their time. Interested women are invited to contact the study's coordinator, Kathy Ringwood, at 206-520-5063 for information on enrolling in the study.

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