Bacterial Vaginosis

What is it?

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a mild vaginal infection caused by the imbalance of bacteria in the vagina.  It is the most common vaginal condition in women ages 15 to 44. Any woman can get BV and it is unknown the cause or the reason why some women get it.

It is more common in sexually active women, those with new or multiple partners, those with an intrauterine device (IUD), the lack of condom use, those who smoke, and those who douche.

You do not get BV from toilet seats, bedding or swimming pools. By having BV, the risk of contracting an sexually transmitted infection (STI) increases. Although not considered transmissible between male to female partners, BV may be transferred between female partners. 

What are the common symptoms?

Around 50% of women will not present with symptoms. For those who do, common symptoms include:

  • Thin white, yellowish or gray vaginal discharge
  • Vaginal pain, itching or burning 
  • Strong fish-like odour, especially after sex
  • Burning when urinating
  • Itching around the vagina

What can I do to minimize my risk?

There is no known best way to prevent BV but the following preventative steps may help lower your risk:

  • Do not have sex
  • Limit the number of partners
  • Avoid douching
  • Use condoms the correct way
  • Use prescribed medication the correct way and for the full duration

What about treatment?

Sometimes BV will go away without treatment in a few days but it can also lead to more serious problems (possibly pelvic inflammatory disease) and therefore should be assessed by a doctor and treated. Antibiotic therapy can be offered to all women with symptomatic BV.

If you have asymptomatic BV, you will likely only be treated in certain situations such as prior to an IUD insertion, undergoing gynecologic surgery, and having a high-risk pregnancy.

Your doctor may prescribe metronidazole or clindamycin either by mouth or vaginally. Symptoms usually improve in 2 to 3 days, but it is important to finish the full course of the medicine prescribed.

If the vaginal clindamycin is prescribed, the mineral oil component may weaken latex condoms and diaphragms therefore an alternative form of contraception should be used for the duration of therapy and for three days after treatment.

Wear loose cotton clothing to facilitate air circulation. Don’t scratch but try using a cool pack or take a cool bath. Don’t wash the vaginal area more than once daily and use only plain water or mild unscented soap. Do not douche. 

References available on page 2.

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