BACKGROUND: Bacterial vaginosis (BV) - a syndrome characterised by a shift in vaginal flora - appears to be particularly common in sub-Saharan Africa, but little is known of the pattern of vaginal flora associated with BV in Africa. We conducted a study aimed at determining the prevalence of BV and patterns of BV-associated vaginal micro-flora among women with vaginal discharge syndrome (VDS) in The Gambia, West Africa. METHODS: We enrolled 227 women with VDS from a large genito-urinary medicine clinic in Fajara, The Gambia. BV was diagnosed by the Nugent's score and Amsel's clinical criteria. Vaginal swabs were collected for T vaginalis and vaginal flora microscopy, and for Lactobacillus spp, aerobic organisms, Candida spp and BV-associated bacteria (Gardnerella vaginalis, anaerobic bacteria, and Mycoplasma spp) cultures; and cervical swabs were collected for N gonorrhoeae culture and C trachomatis PCR. Sera were tested for HIV-1 and HIV-2 antibodies. Sexual health history including details on sexual hygiene were obtained by standardised questionnaire. RESULTS: BV prevalence was 47.6% by Nugent's score and 30.8% by Amsel's clinical criteria. Lactobacillus spp were isolated in 37.8% of women, and 70% of the isolates were hydrogen-peroxide (H202)-producing strains. Prevalence of BV-associated bacteria were: G vaginalis 44.4%; Bacteroides 16.7%; Prevotella 15.2%; Peptostretococcus 1.5%; Mobiluncus 0%; other anaerobes 3.1%; and Mycoplasma hominis 21.4%. BV was positively associated with isolation of G vaginalis (odds-ratio [OR] 19.42, 95%CI 7.91 - 47.6) and anaerobes (P = 0.001 [OR] could not be calculated), but not with M hominis. BV was negatively associated with presence of Lactobacillus (OR 0.07, 95%CI 0.03 - 0.15), and H2O2-producing lactobacilli (OR 0.12, 95% CI 0.05 - 0.28). Presence of H2O2-producing lactobacilli was associated with significantly lower prevalence of G vaginalis, anaerobes and C trachomatis. HIV prevalence was 12.8%. Overall, there was no association between BV and HIV, and among micro-organisms associated with BV, only Bacteroides spp. and Prevotella spp. were associated with HIV. BV or vaginal flora patterns were not associated with any of the factors relating to sexual hygiene practices (vaginal douching, menstrual hygiene, female genital cutting). CONCLUSION: In this population, BV prevalence was higher than in corresponding populations in industrialised countries, but the pattern of vaginal micro-flora associated with BV was similar. BV or vaginal flora patterns were not associated with HIV nor with any of the vaginal hygiene characteristics.
BMC Infectious Diseases (2005) 5: 12. [doi:10.1186/1471-2334-5-12]