Vaginal microbiota in women with spontaneous preterm labor versus those with term labor in Kenya: a case control study

Edgar Gulavi, Fridah Mwendwa, David O. Atandi, Patricia O. Okiro, Michael Hall, Robert G. Beiko, Rodney D. Adam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Preterm birth is a global problem with about 12% of births in sub-Saharan Africa occurring before 37 weeks of gestation. Several studies have explored a potential association between vaginal microbiota and preterm birth, and some have found an association while others have not. We performed a study designed to determine whether there is an association with vaginal microbiota and/or placental microbiota and preterm birth in an African setting. Methods: Women presenting to the study hospital in labor with a gestational age of 26 to 36 weeks plus six days were prospectively enrolled in a study of the microbiota in preterm labor along with controls matched for age and parity. A vaginal sample was collected at the time of presentation to the hospital in active labor. In addition, a placental sample was collected when available. Libraries were constructed using PCR primers to amplify the V6/V7/V8 variable regions of the 16S rRNA gene, followed by sequencing with an Illumina MiSeq machine and analysis using QIIME2 2022.2. Results: Forty-nine women presenting with preterm labor and their controls were enrolled in the study of which 23 matched case–control pairs had sufficient sequence data for comparison. Lactobacillus was identified in all subjects, ranging in abundance from < 1% to > 99%, with Lactobacillus iners and Lactobacillus crispatus the most common species. Over half of the vaginal samples contained Gardnerella and/or Prevotella; both species were associated with preterm birth in previous studies. However, we found no significant difference in composition between mothers with preterm and those with full-term deliveries, with both groups showing roughly equal representation of different Lactobacillus species and dysbiosis-associated genera. Placental samples generally had poor DNA recovery, with a mix of probable sequencing artifacts, contamination, and bacteria acquired during passage through the birth canal. However, several placental samples showed strong evidence for the presence of Streptococcus species, which are known to infect the placenta. Conclusions: The current study showed no association of preterm birth with composition of the vaginal community. It does provide important information on the range of sequence types in African women and supports other data suggesting that women of African ancestry have an increased frequency of non-Lactobacillus types, but without evidence of associated adverse outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number270
JournalBMC Microbiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


  • Preterm birth
  • Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Vaginal microbiota


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