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Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)


Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) is the most common vaginal infection in women of childbearing age. It is sometimes accompanied by discharge, odor, pain, itching, or burning.

How common is bacterial vaginosis?
Scientific studies suggest that Bacterial vaginosis is common in women of reproductive age. In the United States, as many as 16 percent of pregnant women have BV. This varies by race and ethnicity, from 6 percent in Asians and 9 percent in non-Hispanic whites to 16 percent in Hispanics and 23 percent in African Americans.

What are the signs and symptoms of bacterial vaginosis?
Women with Bacterial Vaginosis may have an abnormal vaginal discharge with an unpleasant odor (smelly vagina or smelly viginal 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 Bacterial vaginosis may also have burning during urination or itching around the outside of the vagina, or both. Some women with Bacterial Vaginosis report no signs or symptoms at all.

How do people get bacterial vaginosis?
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 a change in the environment of the vagina that causes 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.

What are the complications of bacterial vaginosis?
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 PID following surgical procedures such as a hysterectomy or an abortion.

» Studies suggest that pregnant women are at increased risk for complications of BV.

How does bacterial vaginosis affect a pregnant woman and her baby?
Pregnant women with BV more often have babies who are born premature or with low birth weight (less than 5 pounds).

The bacteria that cause BV can sometimes infect the uterus (womb) and fallopian tubes (tubes that carry eggs from the ovaries to the uterus). This type of infection is called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can cause infertility or damage the fallopian tubes enough to increase the future risk of ectopic pregnancy and infertility. Ectopic pregnancy is a life-threatening condition in which a fertilized egg grows outside the uterus, usually in a fallopian tube which can rupture.

How is bacterial vaginosis diagnosed?
A health care provider must examine the vagina for signs of BV and perform laboratory tests on a sample of vaginal fluid to look for bacteria associated with BV.

What is the treatment for bacterial vaginosis?
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 PID. Male partners generally do not need to be treated. However, BV may spread between female sex partners.

Treatment is especially important for pregnant women. All pregnant women, regardless of symptoms, who have ever had a premature delivery or low birth weight baby should be considered for a BV examination and be treated when necessary. All pregnant women who have symptoms of BV should be checked and treated.

Some physicians recommend treating all women for BV, regardless of symptoms, prior to surgery for hysterectomies or abortion to reduce their risk of developing PID.

BV is treatable with antimicrobial medicines prescribed by a health care provider. Two different antibiotics are recommended as treatment for BV: metronidazole or clindamycin. Either can be used with non-pregnant or pregnant women, but the recommended dosages differ. Women with BV who are HIV-positive should receive the same treatment as those who are HIV-negative. BV can recur after treatment.

How can bacterial vaginosis be prevented?
BV is not completely understood by scientists, and the best ways to prevent it are unknown. However, it is known that BV is associated with having a new sex partner or having multiple sex partners. 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 in the vagina and developing Bacterial Vaginosis:

» Limit the number of sex partners.

» Do not douche.

» Use all of the medicine prescribed for treatment of Bacterial Vaginosis, even if the signs and symptoms go away.

» Use of condoms may increase the likelihood that "good" bacteria are maintained in the vagina.

< STD Information Center | STD Prevention >

If you think you may have a sexually transmitted disease, you should see a physician immediately to be properly diagnosed and treated. You should not try to diagnose or treat symptoms on your own.

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