Birth Control: an invitation for Staphylococcus aureus

English: This SEM shows a strain of Staphyloco...

This SEM shows a strain of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria taken from a vancomycin intermediate resistant culture (VISA). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Michele Taylor (11 AM Micro) found the following story about how a common medication can alter the carriage of relatively benign microorganisms in healthy individuals, potentially leading to a higher incidence of disease. Here is Michele’s summary:

An article found on states that in 2009, “according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 80 percent of women in the United States have taken birth control pills at one time in their lives.”

The use of birth control pills has increased for those both sexually and non-sexually active. This is accredited to the benefits the pill comes with, which include: avoiding pregnancy, reducing menstrual cramps, causing lighter menstrual periods, and preventing uterine and ovarian cancer, ovarian cysts, and acne. In addition, there are many different types and strengths of this medication that can be taken. This is important in avoiding any unwanted side effects. These effects range from weight gain to nausea. They negative side effects are often overlooked with the benefit of the pills and the convenience of being able to switch prescriptions. However, a new side effect that has drawn the media’s attention is the risk of carrying staph bacteria.

Fox News recently released an article explaining how birth control pills and Staphylococcus aureus relate. It states, a study conducted in Germany has determined that the prescription pills contribute to more suitable living conditions for these bacteria. The study found women on birth control pills were twice as likely to have staph bacteria in the nasal passage. With a higher percentage of women harboring the bacteria, there is a more likely chance of it spreading.

Staphylococcus aureus can be found in the nasal passage and on the skin without causing harm. This explains why the women in the study who were found to harbor the bacteria were not infected. Problems arise when the bacteria get inside a skin opening or into the bloodstream. This can cause serious illness or death.

The article notes a direct link was not found between the birth control use and having the staph bacteria. However, it also says if the findings stand, approximately 20 percent of women harboring the bacteria can be credited to the use of this contraception. Though not proven, it is believed the high hormone levels negatively impact the immune system, leading to this result.

The study tied additional statistics into their findings. These include that men are more likely to carry Staphylococcus aureus than women not on the pill, though women on the pill are more likely to carry the bacteria than men. Women with higher estrogen levels are more likely to carry the bacteria as well. This ties into the hypothesis of hormonal levels being a key factor in the ability of the immune system to combat the Staphylococcus aureus infection.

Above understanding the consequences of taking medication is having the knowledge of the unknown. Anything consumed by the body can have negative implications, whether to an individual or a group of people. In the case of the birth control pills and Staphylococcus aureus, bystanders have been and continue to be affected. Even when thinking of all the infections and disease bacteria cause, it is important to realize bacteria also serve a good. There are plenty of things about the body that has yet to be understood, however, as research continues, people are finding more and more out every day.


About ycpmicro

My name is David Singleton, and I am an Associate Professor of Microbiology at York College of Pennsylvania. My main course is BIO230, a course taken by allied-health students at YCP. Views on this site are my own.

Posted on September 24, 2012, in Guest Post, The more you know and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. This summary is a very interesting presentation of the concepts we will cover in Chapter 14 on the process of colonization and infection.

  2. Scary stuff! Many people don’t realize the side effects that medications can have or the problems they can create. Good job Michele 🙂

  3. Gabrielle Petrancuri

    This summary was very interesting to me, not only because of the correlation between birth control and carrying Staphylococcus aureus, but because of the relationship of hormone levels and the body’s ability to fight infection. I wonder if microbiologists have began to research the optimun or ideal hormone level in the human body to fight different infections that surround us everyday. If an optimum hormonal level was to be discovered, humans could be further protected from bacterial infections and viruses.

  4. Christa Gurriera

    This research was very interesting and enlightening to me. I wasn’t aware that birth control could be related to Staphylococcus aureus or that women with higher estrogen levels have higher chances of getting this bacteria. The fact that the birth control provides a beneficial living space for them worried me. So many women take birth control pills and I feel doctors should inform their patients on all of the possible side effects and statistics. Even if the chances of being infected are rare, patients should be knowledgeable.

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