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Vaginitis refers to disorders of the vagina caused by infection, inflammation, or changes in the normal vaginal flora. Symptoms include vaginal discharge, odor, itching, and/or discomfort. The three most common diseases diagnosed among women with these symptoms include bacterial vaginosis (40-45 percent), vulvovaginal candidiasis (20-25 percent), and trichomoniasis (15-20 percent). In some cases, there may be more than one disease present. Recurrent vaginitis is also common.

Research is under way to determine the factors that promote the growth and disease-causing potential of vaginal microbes and their role in vaginitis. These microbes include the sexually transmitted pathogen Trichomonas vaginalis, Candida species, and microbes associated with bacterial vaginosis, such as Gardnerella vaginalis.

NIAID-supported research has led to advances in knowledge about the normal microflora of the vagina, reproductive behavior of yeast, and the genetic code of T. vaginalis. For example, researchers have discovered an association between certain lactobacilli species in the normal microflora in the vagina and protection from bacterial vaginosis (BV). They are investigating a lactobacillus vaginal suppository aimed to help these beneficial bacteria grow in the vagina. Researchers also are studying the use of combination treatment with vaginal lactobacilli suppositories and oral medication to treat BV and prevent its recurrence.

Other NIAID-funded researchers have sequenced the genome of T. vaginalis. Understanding the genome of this pathogen will help researchers understand how it evolves, spreads, and causes disease. T. vaginalis is particularly interesting to medical researchers because it increases both transmission and acquisition of HIV among women. Additionally, both T. vaginalis​ and BV are associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes including preterm birth and low birth weight. Knowledge gained from ongoing research could help improve efforts to treat and prevent vaginitis and also prevent its potential complications.

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Last Updated April 23, 2015