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Bacterial Vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a condition in women where the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina is disrupted and replaced by an overgrowth of certain bacteria. It is sometimes accompanied by discharge, odor, pain, itching, or burning. The cause of BV is not fully understood. BV is associated with an imbalance in the bacteria that are normally found in a woman's vagina. The vagina normally contains mostly "good" bacteria, and fewer "harmful" bacteria. BV develops when there is an increase in harmful bacteria. Not much is known about how women get BV. There are many unanswered questions about the role that harmful bacteria play in causing BV. Any woman can get BV. However, some activities or behaviors can upset the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina and put women at increased risk including:
  • Having a new sex partner or multiple sex partners,
  • Douching, and
  • Using an intrauterine device (IUD) for contraception.

It is not clear what role sexual activity plays in the development of BV. Women do not get BV from toilet seats, bedding, swimming pools, or from touching objects around them. Women that have never had sexual intercourse are rarely affected. Women with BV may have an abnormal vaginal discharge with an unpleasant odor. Some women report a strong fish-like odor, especially after intercourse. Discharge, if present, is usually white or gray; it can be thin. Women with BV may also have burning during urination or itching around the outside of the vagina, or both. Some women with BV report no signs or symptoms at all. In most cases, BV causes no complications. But there are some serious risks from BV including:
  • Having BV can increase a woman's susceptibility to HIV infection if she is exposed to the HIV virus.
  • Having BV increases the chances that an HIV-infected woman can pass HIV to her sex partner.
  • Having BV has been associated with an increase in the development of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) following surgical procedures such as a hysterectomy or an abortion.
  • Having BV while pregnant may put a woman at increased risk for some complications of pregnancy.
  • BV can increase a woman's susceptibility to other STDs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea.

Although BV will sometimes clear up without treatment, all women with symptoms of BV should be treated to avoid such complications as pelvic inflammatory disease. Male partners generally do not need to be treated. However, BV may spread between female sex partners. BV is treatable with antibiotics prescribed by a health care provider. Two different antibiotics are recommended as treatment for BV: metronidazole or clindamycin.
It is seldom found in women who have never had intercourse. The following basic prevention steps can help reduce the risk of upsetting the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina and developing BV:
  • Be abstinent.
  • Limit the number of sex partners.
  • Do not douche.
  • Use all of the medicine prescribed for treatment of BV, even if the signs and symptoms go away.
 

For more information:

CDC BV fact sheet:
http://www.cdc.gov/std/bv/STDFact-Bacterial-Vaginosis.htm

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