STD Facts :: Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)
WHAT IS IT?
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a very common vaginal condition. It is probably more common than yeast infections in women. Many different types of bacteria (germs) that are normally found in a healthy vagina can cause it.
WHY DO WE NEED TO KNOW ABOUT IT?
BV is the most common vaginal infection in women of childbearing age. In the United States, BV is common in pregnant women (with the CDC estimating 1,080,000 pregnant women with BV each year). The bacteria that cause BV can sometimes infect the uterus (womb) and fallopian tubes, resulting in pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can cause infertility or damage enough to increase the future risk of ectopic pregnancy (meaning the baby grows outside the womb) and infertility
Having bacterial vaginosis makes it easier to both get HIV (because of tissue inflammation) and give HIV (there is more HIV in vaginal fluids when a person is infected) and can cause pregnancy complications, including premature bith and low birth weight.
HOW DO I GET IT?
Bacterial vaginosis can begin when there are too many of one or more types of bacteria normally found in the vagina. Usually an overgrowth of the bacteria happens when something upsets the normal chemical balance of the vagina and the germs multiply to a number greater than what is needed to keep the vagina healthy. Things that may contribute to causing BV include the following:
- Multiple sex partners
- A new sex partner
- having an Intrauterine Device (IUD)
Other things that change the normal vaginal secretions and may cause BV include:
- Feminine hygiene products like deodorant, tampons, or sprays
- Bubble baths, shower gels, and perfumed soaps
Bacterial vaginosis is not caused by a sex partner transmitting a germ to you. It is not considered to be a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Many women experience no symptoms. For those that do get symptoms, the most common symptoms include:
- Increased vaginal discharge which may be yellow, gray, white, thin or milk-like
- Unpleasant or foul odor from the vaginal discharge or after intercourse
- Genital itching or irritation
HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE IT?
BV can be diagnosed on the day of your visit to the clinic. This is done by examining some vaginal discharge under the microscope.
HOW IS IT TREATED?
The usual treatment is with a medicine called metronidazole (Flagyl). As with any medicine, it is important to take all the medicine that is given to you. If you can't take Flagyl for some reason, there are other antibiotics that can be used to treat BV. Avoid intercourse while being treated for BV.
BV can recur after treatment. Sometimes, women can get BV for no apparent reason. If you have repeated episodes of BV, it is best to consult an OB-GYN specialist.
For more specific information about treatment, consult your medical provider. You can also read more in the CDC's 2006 Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines.
WHAT ABOUT SEX PARTNERS?
It is best to wait two weeks after treatment, but at the very least wait at least one week after treatment before having sex.
Since BV is commonly shared between female partners, it is recommended that female partners be tested and treated for BV as well before having sex again. Male sex partners do not need to be treated before having sex again.
WAYS TO REDUCE YOUR RISK
- Use latex or polyurethane condoms every time you have sex
- Use a new condom or latex glove for each new partner in group settings
- Limit the number of people you have sex with
- Get a full STD exam on a regular (at least annual) basis, depending on your risk
- Practice good health habits (use mild, non-scented soap once a day)
- Avoid douching, bubble baths, and other "feminine hygiene" products
For more information about gonorrhea, check out the CDC's Bacterial Vaginosis Fact Sheet.
Questions about your risk? About testing? Email us or call 612.543.555.
Content updated: Jan 08