Whether or not Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) is a sexually transmitted disease is a hotly debated topic at infectious disease cocktail parties. Suffice it to say that BV is the most common vaginal infection affecting 1 out of every 5 women of reproductive age. BV is believed to be caused by an overgrowth of bacteria normally found in the vagina (Specifically Gardnerella vaginalis, and others).
Common Signs & Symptoms
BV may present with a variety of symptoms or none at all. More than 50% of women with BV may be without symptoms. Commonly, though, BV causes an unpleasant fishy or musty vaginal odor, profuse vaginal discharge (usually thin gray or white that sticks to the vagina walls), and vaginal itching and irritation. BV has been associated with Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID).
How’s it Diagnosed?
Diagnosis is made on examination. A pelvic exam is done and a sample of the milky discharge is obtained (pictured is the discharge on the vagina). Under the microscope, the cells of the vagina have a classic appearance in Bacterial Vaginosis (”Clue cells”). In addition, there is a strong fishy odor when the sample is mixed with potassium hydroxide (the “whiff test” is where the doctor smells the vaginal discharge to see if that odor is present.)
Obtaining a sample of the discharge
The whiff test
How’s it Treated?
Treatment is with an antibiotic (metronidazole or clindamycin) taken orally or vaginally. As noted above, it is unclear if BV is sexually transmitted. Some authorities feel treatment of all sexual partners is crucial in preventing reinfection, though scientific studies have not consistently proven this.
How do I avoid Getting It (Prevention)?
It is unclear if this infection is obtained by sexual relations. Women who are sexually active have this disease much more commonly than those abstaining from sexual relations. Regular and correct condom use may protect against this infection though it has not been proven in studies.
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