Differential sexual network connectivity offers a parsimonious explanation for population-level variations in the prevalence of bacterial vaginosis : a data-driven, model-supported hypothesis
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Chris R Kenyon, Wim Delva, Rebecca M Brotman
Background: The prevalence of bacterial vaginosis (BV) and vaginal microbiota types varies dramatically between different populations around the world. Understanding what underpins these differences is important, as high-diversity microbiotas associated with BV are implicated in adverse pregnancy outcomes and enhanced susceptibility to and transmission of sexually transmitted infections. Main text: We hypothesize that these variations in the vaginal microbiota can, in part, be explained by variations in the connectivity of sexual networks. We argue: 1) Couple-level data suggest that BV-associated bacteria can be sexually transmitted and hence high sexual network connectivity would be expected to promote the spread of BV-associated bacteria. Epidemiological studies have found positive associations between indicators of network connectivity and the prevalence of BV; 2) The relationship between BV prevalence and STI incidence/prevalence can be parsimoniously explained by differential network connectivity; 3) Studies from other mammals are generally supportive of the association between network connectivity and high-diversity vaginal microbiota. Conclusion: To test this hypothesis, we propose a combination of empirical and simulation-based study designs.
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