A newly developed contraceptive device that consists of a vaginal ring that is meant to be used for an entire year is currently under development. As part of this device’s safety trials the scientists who developed the device monitored how it would impact the vaginal microbiome. The vaginal microbiome is critical to vaginal health, and certain changes to the vaginal flora are associated with bacterial vaginosis (BV), yeast infections, and other vaginal diseases. Implanting devices will certainly affect the vaginal microbiome, but fortunately, the scientists determined that the device did not increase the likelihood of getting a vaginal microbiome-mediated disease. They published their results last week in PLoS ONE.
The vaginal microbiomes of 120 women using the device were measured over the course of a year. There were no significant increase in the rates of BV over the course of the year. In addition, the levels of Lactobacilli, which are associated with a healthy vagina, and Gardnerella vaginalis, which has been associated with BV, remained relatively unchanged over the course of treatment. In addition, measurements on the actual surface of the vaginal ring matched the overall vagina quite well in terms of microbial colonization. In both cases, Lactobacilli dominated.
Any fluid or device inserted into the vagina should be considered for its effect on the vaginal microbiome, for example, douching is associated with BV. Fortunately, this safety study showed that the vaginal ring did not increase rates of disease, so women out there using a vaginal ring for contraception need not be too concerned that their ring is negatively impacting their vaginal health.