Bacterial vaginosis
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Bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) generally affects women. It’s when the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina is disrupted by an increase of more ‘harmful’ bacteria.

BV isn’t actually a STD. But having sex can increase your chance of getting it. As well, BV increases your risk of getting HIV if you have unprotected sex with someone who’s HIV infected. This is why it's included in the STD section.

How do you get bacterial vaginosis?

You can get bacterial vaginosis from activities that disrupt the vagina’s natural balance of bacteria. One such activity is having sex. But there are other activities that increase your risk of getting it.

These activities include:

  • Using a harsh soap
  • Douching
  • Leaving a tampon in for too long
  • Using particular contraceptives, such as a diaphragm
  • Having a new sex partner or multiple partners

You cannot get BV from toilet seats, swimming pools, or bedding.

How can you protect yourself from getting bacterial vaginosis?

We’ve much to learn about bacterial vaginosis and how to prevent it.

What we do know is BV is associated with behaviours that disrupt the balance of vaginal bacteria.

So to prevent BV you could try to:

  • Avoid harsh soap and vaginal douches
  • Wash with clean water and pH neutral soap
  • Use sanitary pads instead of tampons
  • Avoid using contraceptives like diaphragms
  • Limit your number of sex partners

However, even if you do all this, it’s still possible to get bacterial vaginosis.

What are the signs that you've got bacterial vaginosis?

Most women with bacterial vaginosis, or BV, have no symptoms. This is because for most women, it's a harmless bacterial overgrowth. However, for some women, this overgrowth produces unpleasant symptoms.

Bacterial vaginosis symptoms can include:

  • Creamy white or grey vaginal discharge
  • Strong vaginal odour sometimes smelling of rotten fish
  • Pain when you pee
  • Itching around the outside of the vagina
  • Redness and swelling of labia and the outside of the vagina

Photo example of abnormal bacterial vaginosis discharge:

What happens if you do nothing about bacterial vaginosis? If you do nothing about bacterial vaginosis, in itself it shouldn’t usually cause you any serious health problems.

Untreated BV becomes a problem if you have unprotected sex with someone who’s HIV positive. It then increases your risk of getting HIV. And if you have unprotected sex with someone infected with genital herpes, gonorrhoea, or Chlamydia, having untreated BV increases your risk of getting these STDS too.

How can you get tested for bacterial vaginosis?

A doctor or health care provider can examine you for signs of bacterial vaginosis. Sometimes a sample can be taken using a swab and tested for it in a lab.

How can you get rid of bacterial vaginosis?

If you’ve got bacterial vaginosis, it can sometimes clear up on its own. However, if it doesn’t, it’s curable with antibiotics.

A doctor will prescribe you antibiotics, possibly metronidazole or clindamycin. While you're on the medication don’t drink alcohol because it can stop the antibiotics working properly, and give you unpleasant side effects like nausea. During this time you must also stop having sex because it can stimulate BV to develop again.

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