Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)
- BV is the most common cause of vaginal symptoms in women of childbearing age, yet one study has shown that up to 80% of women cannot recognize its signs
- Generally NOT considered an STD, but seems to be related to sexual activity in some way
- Due to change in the vaginal environment
- Is a result of overgrowth of organisms that are normally suppressed in the vagina
How do you get it?
Risk factors include early onset of sexual activity, greater number of sexual partners, presence of other STDs, particularly trichomoniasis, intra-uterine device use, and regular douching. There is some evidence that oral contraceptives may be protective.
Nearly 50% of women have no symptoms. Common symptoms include foul smelling discharge (fish, musty odor) from the vagina (which may become stronger following intercourse or during menstruation), white or gray milky discharge, itching and inflammation (although not very common). Male sex partners generally have no symptoms, although they may carry the bacteria in the urethra.
Recent studies indicate that BV may be a risk factor in a variety of serious complications, especially for pregnant women. BV is easily transported (via uterine contractions or "active uterine transport") from the vagina and up into the uterine cavity, fallopian tubes, etc. BV can even occur with the pregnant woman's cervical mucus plug intact. In particular, BV adversely affects fetal brain development if left untreated. There are no known complications in males.
BV usually can be diagnosed immediately in the clinic. Advanced lab tests are not needed.
Traditionally, asymptomatic patients have not been treated because in many cases BV will clear on its own. Today, because of new evidence of serious complications, treatment of some asymptomatic women is recommended. Without treatment, some cases will clear on their own, some will recur intermittently, and some will become chronic. Treatment of the male patient is usually not recommended, except in recurrent cases.
Avoid vaginal douching, as this kills healthy bacteria. Avoid self-diagnosis. Sometimes more than one infection is present and you need to be examined by a clinician in order to be diagnosed and treated. Take all of the medication. Avoid having intercourse until the infection has cleared. If you choose to have intercourse, use a condom, but remember that all creams and suppositories are oil-based and will weaken latex condoms.
For information on free and low cost STD testing and treatment services in Los Angeles County, call the STD Hotline at 1-800-758-0880 or visit our STD Testing & Services section.