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Bacterial Vaginosis Treatment and Symptoms

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a condition where the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina is disrupted, resulting in an overgrowth of certain bacteria. It is not a sexually transmitted infection, but can be associated with sexual activity.

Make an appointment at any of our clinics in Greater Victoria to get tested for BV, or to find out more.

For further reading, see BCCDCs info 

What causes bacterial vaginosis (BV)?

Bacterial vaginosis causes are not fully understood and not much is known about what causes the imbalance of bacteria. The vagina normally contains mostly “good” bacteria, and fewer disruptive bacteria. BV develops when there is an increase in disruptive bacteria.

  • It is not clear what role sexual activity plays in BV, however it appears to be associated. People who have never had sexual intercourse are rarely affected.
  • Anyone with a vagina can get bacterial vaginosis. However, some activities can upset the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina and put people at increased risk including: having a new sex partner or multiple sex partners, frequent sexual intercourse, douching, or smoking cigarettes.
  • People do not get BV from toilet seats, bedding, swimming pools, or from touching objects around them.

BV prevention

BV is not completely understood by scientists, and the best ways to prevent it are unknown. However, it is known that BV is associated with having a new sex partner or having multiple sex partners. It is seldom found in women who have never had intercourse.

The following basic prevention steps can help reduce the risk of upsetting the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina and developing bacterial vaginosis:

  • Be abstinent or limit your number of sex partners
  • Use condoms during intercourse
  • Do not douche or wash the vagina excessively
  • Clean sex toys with a dilute (1:10) bleach solution after use, or use a new condom each time.
  • Use all of the medicine prescribed for treatment of BV, even if the signs and symptoms go away.

Symptoms of bacterial vaginosis

Some people with BV report no signs or symptoms at all. People with symptoms may have:

  • abnormal vaginal discharge with an unpleasant odor (a strong fish-like odor) especially after intercourse; this discharge is usually white or gray, and can be thin.
  • burning during urination or itching around the outside of the vagina, or both.

Complications of bacterial vaginosis (BV)

  • In most cases, BV causes no complications.
  • It can increase a person’s susceptibility to other STIs
  • BV has been associated with pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) following surgical procedures such as an IUD insertion or an abortion.
  • bacterial vaginosis may put a pregnant person at increased risk for some complications of pregnancy (miscarriage,early birth, pelvic infection following delivery).

BV tests and diagnosis

A vaginal swab can be sent to a laboratory to test for bacteria associated with bacterial vaginosis. Sometimes these tests are “inconclusive” which may indicate that the body is re-establishing its normal balance, or that BV is developing.

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) treatment

  • BV can go away without treatment
  • When there are symptoms, BV is treated with antibiotics which can be taken as pills or in a vaginal gel form. All people with symptoms of BV should be treated to avoid complications such as PID
  • Male partners usually do not need to be treated. However, BV may spread between female sex partners
  • Those going for an abortion or an IUD insertion should be tested and treated for BV and regardless of symptoms
  • Pregnant people with symptoms of BV should be treated
  • BV can recur after treatment