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Bacterial Vaginosis

Reproductive Tract Infections

Type of Infection: Bacterial vaginosis is an infection caused by one of several species of vaginal bacteria (including Gardnerella vaginalis, Mycoplasma hominis, and various anaerobes) that replace the bacteria that normally live in the human body.

Modes of Transmission for Bacterial Vaginosis: Bacterial vaginosis is a sexually associated condition, but it is not usually considered a specific STD. However, it does occur frequently in lesbians and may be a true STD for this group.

Symptoms of Bacterial Vaginosis: Excessive or foul-smelling discharge is common. Other signs or symptoms include redness of the skin, swelling, and genital itching.

Possible Consequences of Bacterial Vaginosis for the Infected Person: Secondary abrasions may occur, and recurrent infections are common. BV can increase a woman's susceptibility to other STDs, such as HIV, genital herpes, chlamydia and gonorrhea. Bacterial vaginosis puts women at an increased risk of pelvic inflammatory disease, and may also cause cervicitis.

Possible Consequences of Bacterial Vaginosis for the Fetus and Newborn: Bacterial vaginosis is associated with poor pregnancy outcomes, including preterm delivery and low birthweight.

Treatment of Bacterial Vaginosis: Bacterial vaginosis can be cured with antibiotics. Patients with bacterial vaginosis should return to the doctor if the problem is not cured or recurs.

Prevention of Bacterial Vaginosis: It is not completely known how to best prevent Bacterial vaginosis. However, it is known that BV is associated with having a new sex partner or having multiple sex partners. Treatment of the male partner has not been found to be effective in preventing the recurrence of BV. The Centers for Diseaese Control recommneds that people be abstinent, limit the number of sex parteners, and refrain from douching to reduce the risk. Screening for BV prior to pelvic surgery or abortion is recommended because of increased risk for postoperative infectious complications. Women who use an intrauterine device (IUD) for birth control are also at higher risk.

Source of Information: JM Marrazzo, F Guest, W Cates, "Reproductive Tract Infections," In Hatcher et al, Contraceptive Technology, Ardent Media, 2007. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of STD Prevention, "Bacterial Vaginosis," www.cdc.gov/STD/BV/default.htm.
Photo Sources: Public Health Agency of Canada, Division of STD Prevention, STD Self Directed Learning Module, Slide Gallery, "Other STIs and Genital Conditions," www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/slm-maa/slides/index-eng.php; Centers for Disease Control.