Bacterial Vaginosis FAQ

What is Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)?

The most common cause of abnormal vaginal discharge in women who have not undergone menopause yet (women of reproductive age) is bacterial vaginosis.  Bacterial vaginosis or “BV” is a bacterial infection in the vagina that causes vaginal irritation and a “fishy” odor. Some women with BV are asymptomatic.

BV results in many gynecological and obstetric complications, including increased susceptibility to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as HIV and preterm delivery. Moreover, BV can also increase the incidence of infections after surgeries such as hysterectomies.

Is Bacterial Vaginosis common?

Estimates suggest that one in every three women in America gets bacterial vaginosis with the prevalence being higher in black women. This makes BV the most common vaginal condition in women between the ages of 15 and 44 years old.

Who is affected by BV?

BV can affect anyone with a vagina, regardless of whether they had sex or not, although it is significantly more common in sexually active women. Some other risk factors for getting BV are:

  • Pregnancy
  • Use of vaginal douches
  • Use of an intrauterine contraceptive device (IUCD)
  • Having new or multiple sex partners
  • Having a female sex partner

What causes BV?

Just like the digestive system, the vagina also contains a host of bacteria (the microbiome) of different types. When certain bacteria grow faster than the rest, they dominate the vaginal microbiome, and the imbalance causes bacterial vaginosis (BV).

Can BV spread from one person to another?

Although bacterial vaginosis is not contagious, sexual activity heightens the risk of developing BV.

How can you diagnose BV?

A sample of vaginal discharge is taken by a healthcare provider during a vaginal exam. This sample is viewed under the microscope and sent to the lab for testing.

Can BV clear up without intervention?

Although one out of every three cases of BV clears up without treatment, it is important to discuss your case with a physician. If the infection worsens, it can lead to worse outcomes during pregnancy and increase the risk of developing STIs.

How is BV treated?

Typically, metronidazole or clindamycin are prescribed for bacterial vaginosis. These active ingredients are available in the form of oral medication (pills) as well as gels and creams for application to the vagina.

Can BV be treated at home?

Currently, no over-the-counter medications are available for the treatment of BV. To prevent the worsening of the infection, you can avoid using products intended for use in yeast infections and douches. You should consult a physician for proper diagnosis and treatment.


What can I do to reduce the risk of developing BV?

Since we are yet to fully understand what causes bacterial vaginosis, you cannot completely avoid it. However, taking the following measures can reduce your risk of developing BV:

  • Use cotton/cotton-lined underwear instead of synthetic ones.  Since bacteria flourish in moist environments, using cotton underwear helps get rid of moisture and reduces the chance of getting BV.
  • Don’t use vaginal douches.  These disrupt the balance of vaginal bacteria. It is preferable to choose healthier vaginal hygiene practices.
  • Use barrier methods of birth control, such as dental dams and latex condoms.  Studies show that unprotected sex can increase the risk of developing BV for reasons not known yet.
  • Don’t let anything that has come in contact with your anus touch your vagina.  The bacteria from the anal region can be transferred to the vagina through things like toilet paper and sex toys. It is important to ensure that any sex toys that you use are clean.

How long does it take for BV to clear up?

Most people only need a single round of antibiotic treatment lasting up to one week to completely clear up the infection. A small percentage (10% to 15%) needs a second round of treatment.

Is it possible for BV to recur?

Yes, the recurrence rate for BV is nearly 80%.

Can I get the treatment for BV during pregnancy?

You should consult your physician for treatment of BV during pregnancy. You will be prescribed drugs that are safe for use during pregnancy. Since BV can cause complications during pregnancy such as low birth weight and premature delivery.

When do I need to inform my partner?

Men do not need treatment for bacterial vaginosis, but women can get BV. You should let any female sex partner know so that she can get treated on time.

When do I need to consult a healthcare provider?

Talk to a healthcare provider if you experience any of the following:

  • Vaginal itching, swelling, or burning
  • Discharge with an abnormal color/consistency
  • Discharge with an abnormal odor