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Bad Vaginal Bacteria Linked To Increased HIV Risk

01/12/2017 11:31 EST | Updated 01/13/2017 10:45 EST

Vaginal health isn't just important for reproductive purposes; it plays an important role in the overall health of a woman — so it's important to pay attention to what's going on down there.

Researchers from the Ragon Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts have recently discovered a link between women lacking lactobacillus bacteria and an increased risk of contracting HIV.

Their study, published in the journal Immunity, looked at the genital bacteria of 900 healthy women in South Africa aged between 18 and 23 years old. The women who hosted more diverse bacteria known to cause inflammation were four times more likely to contract HIV than those who had a vaginal tract filled with more healthy lactobacillus bacteria.

woman in underwear

The women with high-risk bacteria were also found to have more white blood cells and are therefore more easily targeted by HIV. “If you have more of these cells there, and they’re more activated, there’s essentially more fuel for the fire, so that when a spark lands there’s more chance of it catching," said the study's co-author Douglas Kwon.

While the findings can be used as a tool for HIV awareness and prevention, improving vaginal bacteria proves to be a more challenging issue since scientists have yet to determine how to change the bacteria composition in a woman's vagina.

Probiotics have long been associated with maintaining healthy bacteria in the body. Probiotics found in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir and tempeh also contain lactobacillus bacteria, which is found in healthy genital tracts and guts.

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