What is bacterial vaginosis and what causes it?
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common condition of the vagina caused by an overgrowth of various germs (bacteria). It is not just one simple infection caused by one type of germ (bacterium). The vagina normally has a mix of bacteria, but in BV the balance changes. It is not clear why this happens. As a result, certain bacteria multiply and thrive much more than usual. Some bacteria become much more prominent than they normally are.
BV is not caused by poor hygiene. In fact, excessive washing of the vagina may alter the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina, which may make BV more likely to develop.
Is bacterial vaginosis a sexually transmitted disease?
No, bacterial vaginosis (BV) can affect any woman, including those who do not have (or who have never had) sex. However, BV is more common amongst sexually active women than amongst non-sexually active women. No germ (bacterium) is passed on between sexual partners to cause this condition. Sexual partners of women with BV do not need any treatment. However, some cases of BV seem to be sexually related. It may develop after a change in sexual partner. In these cases, the infection is not caught from anyone. But a change in sexual partner may affect the balance of normal germs (bacteria) in the vagina. BV is also more likely in women in same sex relationships who have had a change of partner.
Who gets bacterial vaginosis and how common is it?
It is not exactly known how common bacterial vaginosis (BV) is. It is often so mild that women may not go to the doctor. It may be that as many as about 1 in 3 women have BV at some time in their lives.
You are more likely to get BV if:
- You are sexually active. (Women who have never had sex can get BV too. However, it is more common in women who are having sex. You can have BV whether you have sex with women or with men.)
- You have recently changed your sexual partner.
- You have a past history of STIs.
- You smoke.
- You have a copper coil for contraception - an intrauterine contraceptive device (IUCD).
- Your family has Afro-Caribbean origins.
- You use bubble bath.
You are less likely to get BV if:
Further reading and references
Management of bacterial vaginosis; British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (May 2012)
Bacterial vaginosis; NICE CKS, July 2014 (UK access only)
Brotman RM, Ghanem KG, Klebanoff MA, et al; The effect of vaginal douching cessation on bacterial vaginosis: a pilot study. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2008 Jun198(6):628.e1-7. Epub 2008 Mar 4.
Oduyebo OO, Anorlu RI, Ogunsola FT; The effects of antimicrobial therapy on bacterial vaginosis in non-pregnant women. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009 Jul 8(3):CD006055. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD006055.pub2.
Brocklehurst P, Gordon A, Heatley E, et al; Antibiotics for treating bacterial vaginosis in pregnancy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jan 311:CD000262. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD000262.pub4.
Sexually Transmitted Infections in Primary Care; Royal College of General Practitioners and British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (Apr 2013)
Senok AC, Verstraelen H, Temmerman M, et al; Probiotics for the treatment of bacterial vaginosis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009 Oct 7(4):CD006289.
Evans AL, Scally AJ, Wellard SJ, et al; Prevalence of bacterial vaginosis in lesbians and heterosexual women in a community setting. Sex Transm Infect. 2007 Oct83(6):470-5. Epub 2007 Jul 4.
Vaginal discharge; NICE CKS, May 2013 (UK access only)
I thought I had BV for 3 years. I’m 23 years old now and have suffered. In the beginning I was having sex with a guy who wasn’t very hygenic. That being said, I think that had a lot to do with the...kayla23
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