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Bacterial vaginosis (BV), formerly known as nonspecific vaginosis, is the most common vaginal infection for those of reproductive age. It should be thought of as a problem related to the balance of bacteria in the vagina which may cause symptoms on and off for months or years.

It is caused by the overgrowth of several bacteria in the vagina. Bacteria that cause BV include Gardnerella vaginalis, Mobiluncus and Mycoplasma hominis. It is normal to have a small amount of these bacteria in the vagina so it is only when there is an overgrowth that it’s considered to be BV.  These bacteria do not cause permanent damage.

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  • How it's spread

    BV is not considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI). While BV is not an STI, having sex can sometimes create the conditions where BV can develop.

  • What are the symptoms?

    Approximately 50 per cent of people who get BV do not have any symptoms. For those that do, they may include a watery, grey or yellow vaginal discharge as well as changes in odour which may include a fishy smell. BV can also cause itching, irritation and soreness on the vagina and vulva (the outside genitals).

  • What are the complications?

    While BV is not an STI, it can still, in some cases, cause some complications. If you are pregnant and have BV, you may be more likely to have a pre-term birth or have a miscarriage. If you are having an abortion or any other gynecological surgery, there is a possible risk of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) if you have BV.

    Like any vaginal infection, having BV can also make it more likely to get infected with HIV if you have unprotected sex with someone who is HIV positive. BV has been linked with UTIs (urinary tract infections) and cervicitis (an infection of the cervix).

  • How is it diagnosed?

    BV can be diagnosed based on symptoms. It can also be diagnosed by sending a swab of your discharge to a lab where they can look at the bacteria under a microscope. You are usually tested for BV when you have a vaginal check-up at Hassle Free Clinic.

    BV involves an overgrowth of bacteria that are usually present in small amounts. Testing for BV is not black-and-white as there are different levels of bacteria that can be found, in a different balance with one another.  BV represents an extreme imbalance of bacteria.

    Testing may also indicate ‘altered vaginal flora’ (AVF) where there could be some changes to the bacterial balance of the vagina but not enough to officially have BV. In some cases, AVF can cause symptoms similar to BV and can be treated like it was BV.

  • How is it treated?

    You should be treated if you are having symptoms, if you use an IUD for birth control, if you are pregnant, or if you are scheduled to have a gynecological procedure. Treatment will help get rid of the symptoms as well as reduce the risk of complications.
    There are effective treatments for BV. Different antibiotics can be used. You will need a prescription from a doctor to get the medication. At Hassle Free Clinic we will provide you with the medication if you cannot afford to buy it. This medication can clear symptoms dramatically, but it is still possible they will return.

    The common medication for BV is taken orally (by mouth) for seven days. You cannot drink any alcohol while you are taking these pills as well as 24 hours before starting the medication and 48 hours after finishing the medication.

  • What about my sexual partner(s)?

    BV is not considered an STI. It is not something that can typically be passed back and forth between partners. People who don’t have vaginas cannot get BV and there’s no need to have those partners treated. If you have partners with vaginas it is possible that some bacteria can be spread to that partner. They will normally already have some of these bacteria in their body and be able to maintain a healthy balance. Nonetheless, you may want to consider avoiding direct exchange of vaginal fluids until your BV has been treated.

  • Prevention

    BV is an imbalance of bacteria in the vagina. Factors that can change this balance include douching, antibiotics, hormonal changes, menstrual blood, foreign bodies such as tampons, diaphragms, IUDs and semen. These can change the pH levels and affect the overall environment of the vagina.  See vaginal discharge.

    Some people keep getting BV while others may never get it. If you keep getting BV, you may want to try having sex using condoms and avoiding some of the things listed above. Wearing unbleached, cotton underwear and avoiding synthetic underwear, pantyhose and tight clothing may also help reduce the chances of getting BV.