During the summer, I try to catch up on non-medical reading. Recently, I was introduced to a beautiful, sensitive autobiographical book titled “Sweet Summer: Growing Up With and Without My Dad” by BeBe Moore Campbell. In one of her recollections, the author reminisces about the time she took a bath with her Southern cousin using dishwashing detergent as the bubble-maker.
This act of affection and fun caused me to recall the travail of my patient, Ms. G., who had a persistent itch and a chronic fungal vaginitis that did not respond to medically accepted treatment. Frustrated, I sat the patient down and went through an average day with her to find out what activity could have been the basis of her illness. She finally related that when she took her evening bath (and she took one every night), she would add a few capsules of a well-known disinfectant to the bath water in order to get, as she put it, “extra clean.”
It was immediately evident to me that the cause of her vaginitis was chemical. I advised Ms. G. that the addition of a disinfectant to the bath water was not only the cause of her chronic dermatitis (skin condition), but also her fungal vaginitis.
I explained to her that there are both good and bad germs in the vagina. Often, the protective germs are eliminated by bathwater chemicals and even by the overuse of oral antibiotics, such as tetracycline. Removal of these bacteria allows the overgrowth of a fungus, which can then become a vaginal problem.
In her case, the fungus Candida (moniliasis) was the cause of the cheesy discharge, itching, burning and painful intercourse that she was experiencing.
This type of vaginitis can also be caused by leftover cleaning agents in the tub after a thorough, sanitizing cleaning. I explained that even a clean-looking tub should always be thoroughly rinsed out before drawing the bathwater. I further warned her about the use of highly scented bubble baths and other exotic fragrances.
Luckily, the type of vaginitis caused by the fungus Candida can be controlled and usually cured with the use of an anti-agent known as Nystatin. The discovery and use of this medication revolutionized the treatment of Candida vaginitis. Ms. G. was given an adequate course of this medication and called me at the end of the week, elated over her cure. I told her that if it was not for two excellent scientists, Elizabeth Hazen and Rachel Brown, the cure for this type of vaginitis may not have been possible. These two scientists, as reported in the book “Mother of Invention” by Ethlie Ann Vare and Greg Ptacek, not only discovered the anti-fungal wonder drug Nystatin, but also donated the proceeds, amounting to $13 million, for further scientific investigation.
Ms. G. related that she felt much improved and gloried in the realization that her sisters were the founders of the anti-fungal medication that cured her very uncomfortable vaginal problem.