The American ‘Center for Disease Control’ (CDC) reports that Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) is the most common cause of vaginal symptoms in women of childbearing age, and that more than three-quarters of the women found to have BV report no symptoms at all. Any woman, regardless of whether she is sexually active or not, can be affected by BV.
What It Is
BV is a mild vaginal infection caused by an imbalance of bacteria normally found in a woman's vagina. A woman's vagina relies upon a delicate ratio of acidity and alkalinity in order to maintain health and harmony. When the normal balance of bacteria is disrupted, an overgrowth of certain bacteria occurs that may be accompanied by a combination of pain, itching, burning, odor and/or discharge.
The condition is still not fully understood, nor is it clear exactly how sexual activity affects the development of BV. What is known is that there are a number of activities that may upset the ideal balance of vaginal flora needed to prevent the over-colonization of 'bad' bacteria in the vagina. Thus, BV is NOT necessarily a Sexually Transmitted Disease/Infection (STD/STI), but can be associated with sexual activity.
The most prevalent symptom of BV is abnormal discharge, usually associated with a strong odor. Some women characterize the odor as smelling foul or ‘fishy’, particularly after sexual intercourse. Vaginal discharge may appear grayish, yellow or white - and may be thin in consistency. Other common symptoms to be aware of include a burning sensation during urination and/or itchiness near the outside of the vagina.
For the most part, BV does not cause health complications, but that doesn't mean there aren't serious risks to consider. Having BV may increase a woman's susceptibility to STDs/STIs -notably AIDS - and others such as Herpes, Gonorrhea and Chlamydia. It has been shown that this vaginal infection may increase a woman's chance of developing an infection following surgical and medical procedures such as IUD insertion, abortion or hysterectomy.
BV has also been associated with Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), which is known to cause infertility and possibly increase future risk of ectopic pregnancy, a life threatening condition. BV may put a pregnant woman's infant at risk for complications such as low birth and pre-term delivery.
It is not quite understood what causes BV, nor the exact role bacteria plays in the development of this vaginal infection. Although scientists haven't come up with a hard and fast method to prevent BV, there are a number of activities that are believed to contribute to an imbalance of 'good' and 'bad' bacteria in the vagina, and thus increase one's risk for contraction; these are: sex with a new partner; having multiple sexual partners; smoking; douching; excessive washing of the vagina; using bath or shower products that may irritate the skin; unprotected sex; and, improper cleaning of Sex Toys & products.
Because BV may increase a woman's risk of contracting a serious STD/STI and may also increase her chances of complications if she is pregnant, it is vital to her health and well-being that she practice safe sex and seek the advice of a physician for treatment guidelines.
Sometimes BV will just clear up on its own and sometimes it requires treatment with a series of prescribed antibiotics. Generally, all that's required to identify BV is a laboratory test performed on a sample of vaginal fluid. The CDC ‘STD/STI Fact Sheet’ on BV reports that this infection may be spread between female sexual partners, though male partners generally don't need treatment if their female partners develop it.
Many women found to have BV report having no symptoms at all, so they aren't aware of the health risks they're exposed to by this condition. With that in mind, it is especially important that sexually active women have regular physical examinations and STD/STI testing so as to identify any abnormalities. They should also consider seeking additional testing if they've started sleeping with someone new, suspect they're pregnant, or notice any irregularity in the smell, consistency or color of vaginal discharge.