Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) is the most common form of vaginal infection, being twice as common as thrush, for which it is often mistaken.
However, (just like thrush), it’s not really a sexually transmitted infection. It occurs when the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina is disrupted and an increase in harmful bacteria takes places. It is not a single bacterium (bug) that causes BV but when an ‘overgrowth’ of various bacteria occurs. 1 in 10 women will have BV at some point and evidence suggests that it is more common in lesbians than other women.
The cause of BV is not fully understood. It can develop after sexual contact; when using an intrauterine device (IUD) for birth control; and after douching. The only commonality is that something takes place that disrupts the balance between good and harmful bacteria. You cannot get BV from toilet seats, bedding, swimming pools or from touching objects you come into contact with.
BV can have no symptoms at all. Sometimes there may be more vaginal discharge than usual. The discharge might be milky with a ‘fishy’ odour. The odour can be worse after sex. Other symptoms may include itching or burning in or near the vagina.
BV is treated with antibiotics, usually Metronidazole or Clindmycin. It is however possible to get a re-infection of BV after you have been treated.
In pregnancy, people with symptoms of BV or those who have had a previous low birth weight or a premature baby should be tested for BV. The same antibiotics can be used with when pregnant, however the amount of antibiotic prescribed may vary.
BV, in most cases, does not cause any further medical problems however if it remains untreated it can cause:
- Pregnancy problems such as low birth weight (below five pounds) or premature delivery.
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) an infection that affects the uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes.
- Having BV increases the risk of getting PID after surgery.
- BV can increase the risks of getting other sexually transmitted infections (STI) and HIV positive people who get BV, increase the risk of passing on HIV to their partners.
How to avoid it
Some people get BV again and again. It is not clear why or how this happens. But the following can help lessen the risk of getting it:
- Wipe from front to back (away from the vagina) after bowel movements to avoid spreading bacteria from the rectum to the vagina.
- Keep the vulva (outside of the vagina) dry and clean.
- Do not douche. Douching is never a good idea, especially with BV.
- Avoid feminine hygiene sprays, harsh soaps, or soaps with lots of perfume.
- Avoid clothing that can trap moisture, such as nylon.
- Using condoms with sex toys, avoiding sharing toys and using dental dams for oral sex may help prevent infection.
- You should avoid sex until you have finished treatment in order to stop re-infection.