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What is bacterial vaginosis?
Bacterial vaginosis is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria (bugs) that are normally only present in the vagina in small numbers. When these bacteria are present in large numbers they may cause symptoms such as an abnormal discharge or odour. Bacterial vaginosis is sometimes called non-specific vaginitis or Gardnerella vaginitis.
It is not clear whether bacterial vaginosis is a sexually transmitted infection, but it can increase your chances of contracting another STI and is more common in women with more than one sexual partner.
What are the symptoms of bacterial vaginosis?
Bacterial vaginosis may cause an increase in normal vaginal secretions (fluid leaking from the vagina). There may be a strong odour from the vagina, and the smell may be worse after unprotected sex. Some women may not have any symptoms.
Other infections may be present at the same time as bacterial vaginosis and may have similar symptoms. It is therefore important to take tests to rule out sexually transmitted infections as well.
How serious is bacterial vaginosis?
Bacterial vaginosis is easy to treat and does not lead to any serious health problems.
How do I get tested for bacterial vaginosis?
During a medical examination, the doctor or nurse may notice a discharge or odour. The normal acidity of the vaginal fluid may have changed to become more alkaline, even though you may not have noticed any symptoms.
Bacterial vaginosis can be easily diagnosed by doing a vaginal swab test. Results of this test will be available before you leave the sexual health clinic and the doctor can prescribe treatment. Find a local clinic now.
What is the treatment for bacterial vaginosis?
Treatment is not required if there are no symptoms. Treatment is offered if you have symptoms or if you are about to have a gynaecological procedure (such as insertion of an IUD or termination of pregnancy) which could allow bacteria into the uterus.
Treatment is usually metronidazole (Flagyl) antibiotic tablets, taken for seven days. Metronidazole may cause nausea or an upset stomach; these effects can be reduced by taking the tablets with meals. Do not drink alcohol during treatment or you may get a severe hangover.
Other important information about bacterial vaginosis
Bacterial vaginosis often develops soon after intercourse with a new partner and can be associated with other sexually transmitted infections. It is also common in women who have sex with other women and it is possible that bacteria may be transmitted on fingers or sex toys.
Return of symptoms is very common, sometimes within a few weeks of treatment. Sometimes a longer course of treatment may reduce the return of symptoms.
Treating the male partner of an infected woman does not seem to prevent recurrences so is not recommended.
It is not clear yet why some women get bacterial vaginosis. Although no infection like bacterial vaginosis is found in men, if you have sex with casual acquaintances, insist that your male partner uses a condom. This may reduce the risk of developing bacterial vaginosis while also reducing the risk of sexually transmitted infections.