Bacterial vaginosis: Something fishy

By Dr Jireh Serfontein, sexual health practitioner.

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is not an infection caught from your partner; it is due to an upset of the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina. While it is not a dangerous infection, it can cause disturbing symptoms.

Bacterial vaginosis is an imbalance in the bacteria in the vagina. All women have harmless bacteria in their vaginal passage. With bacterial vaginosis (BV), some of the bacteria multiply so that more are present than is normal (Gardnerella and Mobiluncus bacteria are the usual culprits).

“The main symptom is a fishy smell in the genital area, which can be worse after sex and during your period. There is usually an abnormal discharge, which is watery and greyish-white in colour.”

What are the symptoms of bacterial vaginosis?

The main symptom is a fishy smell in the genital area, which may become worse after sex and during your period. There is usually an abnormal discharge, which is watery and greyish-white in colour. BV does not cause soreness or irritation. Any soreness or irritation can be due to a candida infection. Many women with BV actually could have no symptoms at all and it is sometimes picked up with a routine pap smear. If untreated, BV may possibly increase the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease, which is an infection of the Fallopian tubes that lead from the ovaries to the uterus.

What causes bacterial vaginosis?

Any woman can get BV, but there are certain things that can upset the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina and increasing your risk of developing BV:

  • Having a new sex partner or multiple sex partners
  • Vaginal douching
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Not using a condom

Although sexual activity can increase the risk of developing BV, it can occur in women who have never had vaginal intercourse. It is important to know that BV is not thought to be a sexually transmitted infection.

How is bacterial vaginosis treated?

If you think you have BV, you need to see your doctor since the treatment is only available with a doctor’s prescription. Treatment for BV consists of antibiotics that are routinely used. Metronidazole (Flagyl) taken by either oral (pill) form or by vaginal gel (Metrogel) is an effective treatment. Also available is the vaginal clindamycin cream (Cleocin). The oral metronidazole can cause some minor but unpleasant side effects and should never be taken with alcohol. Metronidazole cures the problem in 90% of women.