women's health

Vaginal Fluid Implants Could Mean Life-Changing Treatment For Women With Bacterial Vaginosis

A new study is launching that transplants healthy vaginal fluid into women who struggle with chronic BV.

A new study is launching that will determine if vaginal fluid implants could help or cure bacterial ...
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Here’s a shocking statistic: At any given moment, about one in three women in America are suffering from bacterial vaginosis (BV), a bacterial infection that can not only cause discomfort and embarrassment, but one that is closely linked with other reproductive health issues, including preterm birth, higher rates of HIV, higher rates of HPV, and higher rates of infertility.

And here’s another fact that’s less shocking but just as upsetting: Because of a general lack of interest and innovation in women’s health (read: sexism), the mainstay treatment for BV —antibiotics — hasn’t changed for 40 years and is often not effective in the long term.

In other words, millions upon millions of women suffer from chronic cases of BV, but the medical world hasn’t done much about it.

Until now.

Enter Dr. Caroline Mitchell, MD, director of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Vulvovaginal Disorders Program. Dr. Mitchell is taking on BV in ingenious and exciting ways, and this month is launching a new and innovative study that will transplant vaginal fluid from healthy participants into the vaginas of women who suffer from BV.

“The fact that there hasn't been a new treatment is infuriating as a health care provider — and as a woman,” Mitchell told WBUR in an interview.

Mitchell discussed how BV hurts women’s health and women’s relationships — and disproportionally affects marginalized women and women of color.

“It really strikes at the core of their relationships. It makes them feel uncomfortable with intimacy with a partner. It makes them feel ashamed,” said Mitchell.

And while antibiotics help clear some infections, the BV comes back within weeks or months for 40 to 60% of cases. That’s millions of women suffering over an issue that isn’t discussed widely because of stigma.

What Mitchell has found is that women with healthy vaginal fluid have a large amount of Lactobacillus crispatus, a “superhero” bacteria that keep “down there” healthy and happy and free of imbalances. Having a lot of this bacteria helps prevent infections, STDs, and inflammation — but it’s not found anywhere in nature except in the vaginal fluids of humans.

Enter vaginal fluid transplants.

It’s Dr. Mitchell’s hope that her new study — which collects the vaginal fluid from carefully tested women with healthy vagina flora and transplants it into women with chronic BV — will open a path to new treatments for the ailment. And that millions of women will have more and better options for healing in the future.

Success has been found in similar procedures in which fecal transplants help establish healthier bacteria in patients’ intestines, curing chronic stomach issues.

The next step is waiting — for Mitchell to conclude her study, and for two similar studies in Denmark and Israel to report their findings. Here’s to hoping.