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The association between

ethnicity and

vaginal microbiota



A balanced, healthy vaginal microbiota plays a vital role in maintaining women’s health. Their are many factors that influence the composition of the vaginal microbiota of which ethnicity appears to be one.

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A healthy vaginal microbiome is characterized by abundance of H2O2 producing lactobacilli. Absence of, or low concentrations of vaginal lactobacilli have been associated with the development of bacterial vaginosis (BV), a common vaginal infection. Risk factors well-known for disturbing the vaginal microbial balance are; unprotected sexual activity, smoking, vaginal showers, presence of sexual transmitted infections, and ethnicity. However, whether the association between ethnicity and vaginal microbiome composition is based on sociodemographic, behavioural, environmental of genetic factors is still not clear.

A recently published study investigated whether ethnicity is independently associated with vaginal microbiome. For this, the researchers analysed vaginal swabs from women representing the six largest ethnic groups in Amsterdam (Dutch, African Surinamese South-Asian Surinamese, Turkish, Moroccan, and Ghanaian). 

To effectiviely treat vaginal bacterial infections it is important to know which type of bacteria dominate the vaginal microbiota

After adjusting for sociodemographic, behavioural and clinical factors, the researchers found that women with African Surinamese and Ghanaian ethnicity have a vaginal microbiota containing relatively high levels of Gardnerella vaginalis, an anaerobe bacteria often associated with BV. Besides, African and Ghanaian ethnicity, other risk factors that were found to be associated with a G. vaginalis dominated  vaginal microbiota were; shorter steady relationship duration, inconsistent condom use with casual partners and not using hormonal contraception.


The researchers suspect that genetic differences might underlie the found differences. For the efficacy of BV treatments it is important to know the composition of the vaginal microbiota/ the type of bacteria that dominate the vaginal microbiota. A vaginal microbiota resembling bacterial vaginosis might need other  and respond different to, (antibiotic) treatments. In-vitro studies have suggested that certain specific strains of Lactobacilli are able to inhibit the adherence of Gardnerella vaginalis to the vaginal epithelium and/or produce H2O2, lactic acid and/or bacteriocins, which inhibit the growth of bacteria causing BV. Also some clinical trials have showed that intra-vaginal or oral administration of lactobacilli species restored a normal vaginal microbiota and resulted in the cure of BV and/or reduced the recurrence of BV.



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Ethnicity and the vaginal microbiota

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