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MONDAY, Feb. 3, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Bacteria in the female reproductive tract during the late second and early third trimester of pregnancy are different in women who will ultimately give birth prematurely than in women with full-term deliveries, new research suggests.
The study is scheduled for presentation Thursday at the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine's annual meeting in New Orleans.
Researchers reached their conclusions after testing the so-called "cervicovaginal microbiota" in vaginal swabs taken from pregnant women in the second trimester (20 to 24 weeks) and early third trimester (24 to 28) of pregnancy. They compared the bacteria from women who would go on to give birth prematurely to those who gave birth at full term.
At issue: The kinds of bacteria that were present based on their "community state type," or CST.
"We compared the proportion of CSTs in the women who ultimately had a preterm birth to those who had a term birth," Dr. Michal Elovitz, director of the maternal and child health research program at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, said in a meeting news release.
The percentage with certain kinds of CST "was significantly lower in samples from women delivering preterm than term," Elovitz said. "Notably, the differences in these microbial communities were evident in the late second trimester of pregnancy, weeks, if not months, prior to the preterm birth."
It's not yet clear how these differences might be related to whether a woman has a full-term birth, Elovitz said.
"This study is the first to report such key differences in the [cervicovaginal] microbial communities weeks prior to preterm birth," she said. "If differences are confirmed, then new and exciting therapeutic strategies will emerge to prevent preterm birth."
The researchers are launching another study to better understand how the bacteria are connected to preterm birth.
Data and conclusions of studies presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
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