A reader asked us if there was a connection between oral contraceptives, recurrent yeast infections and/or the rate of general illness. At the time, we were unable to find any research on these topics. Indeed, the only studies we could find on oral contraceptives and yeast infections were either conducted 40 years ago or on rodents.
However, just this week we found a study published last month showing that women taking oral contraceptives were almost twice as likely to be persistent carriers of nasal staphylococcus aureus than women who were oral contraceptive free or men. Staphylococcus or staph, is the bacteria that causes a host of infections including the MRSA or methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus strain that is resistant to antibiotics. The two most common locations for this pathogen to reside are in the nose and on the skin.
Carrier Status and Infection
Approximately 20% of the population are persistent carriers of s. aureus, increasing their risk for infection especially with surgical procedures or when combined with impaired immune function. About 30% of the population are intermittent carriers and 50% of the population are non-carriers.
The increased rate of persistent carrier status in women who use oral contraceptives is notable especially considering the rise in MRSA infections observed in athletes and emanating from locker rooms. Oral contraceptive use is common among female athletes. A recent study indicated a significantly higher prevalence of MRSA bacteria on the surfaces of women’s locker rooms, compared to men’s locker rooms.
Our reader’s observation that while on the pill she seemed more susceptible to illness might very well be correct. Whether oral contraceptives are linked to recurring yeast infections remains unclear. What is clear, however, is that much more research must be done on the interaction between oral contraceptives and immune function.