The A B C of vaginal infections
This section is all about vaginal infections, a common issue that will affect most women at one point or another in their lives. Yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis are not STIs.
The vaginal flora is a specialized ecosystem comprised of good bacteria called the vaginal microbiota. The vagina maintains a balance where billions of good bacteria comprised of mostly lactic bacteria keep the pH high to protect against undesired bacterial growth. When this balance is disturbed, and we will see later that the possible causes are many, Candida albicans or Gardnerella vaginalis can take over.
We will also address trichomonas vaginalis, a parasitic infection that is sexually transmitted and is often confused with bacterial vaginosis.
Yeast infections are common and are often treated at home. However the causes and cycles of Candida albicans are poorly understood by most. As mentioned above, the vaginal flora is home to billions of lactic bacteria. These good bacteria produce lactic acid and help keep a high acidity level for pathogenic yeast or bacteria to survive and multiply. In short, lactic bacteria defend against infections, and when their numbers drops, trouble follows. Many factors can contribute to the overgrowth of candida albicans, namely:
- Your menstrual cycle
- Medication such as birth control pill or antibiotics
- Vaginal douching
Candida albicans, is a microscopic yeast found essentially in the human digestive tract and in the genital area. It is a harmless pathogen in healthy subjects, that is to say that most individuals’ immune system keeps it in check. Because Candida albican is opportunistic, any variation to a woman’s vaginal ph is an occasion for a genital coup d’état, if you will.
A yeast infection caused by Candida albican causes itchiness and a white, odorless discharge often compared to cottage cheese. Fluconazole and clotrimazole treatments are available over the counter to treat this kind of infection. In some cases, an oral dose of treatment is prescribed.
Because a vaginal infection might mask or coexist with an STI, it is still recommended to consult if the infection coincides with a contact that might have been at risk, or if you get recurring yeast infections.
The term bacterial vaginosis is used when a disturbance in the vaginal flora allows for bacterial overgrowth. When that situation arises, the bacteria Gardnerella vaginalis is the most likely culprit. Gardnerella vaginalis naturally occurs in a healthy vaginal flora, but can quickly become an unruly guest when given the chance. Some bacterial vaginosis are asymptomatic and eventually resorb on their own without medical intervention. In other cases however, symptoms include watery, foul smelling discharge of a greyish color.
To treat bacterial vaginosis, an antibiotic or probiotic treatment might be prescribed. Over the counter treatments do not treat bacterial vaginosis and some symptoms can mask or be confused with other infections, hence the importance of seeing a healthcare professional if you think you might suffer from bacterial vaginosis.
Some bacterial vaginosis are caused by other bacterium than Gardnerella. Some infections are caused by the tiniest bacteria known to man, called mycoplasma. Mycoplasma is often misdiagnosed and can quickly become a nightmare for their host.
By collecting a vaginal swab, we can identify which type of infection is occurring and select the best plan of treatment for you.
Trichomoniasis vaginalis is not a bacteria nor a yeast, it is a parasite from the protozoan family that is sexually transmitted. Because trichomoniasis is asymptomatic in up to 90% of men and is found in the genital mucous membranes, it is easily contracted through intercourse. Around 50% of women show no symptoms at all.
When symptoms occur however, a heavy discharge is noted, accompanied by vulvar and vaginal erythema.
Trichomoniasis is treated with a single dose of antibiotics and protected sexual contacts until remission. Treating your partner is important because reinfection is a common issue with trichomoniasis.
One culture, plenty of answers
When in doubt, better to consult with a healthcare professional. A simple culture will help us rule out possible issues, identify the cause and save you both time and discomfort. The vaginal analysis and culture is part of Créa-MeD’s routine screening package but can also be done on its own.