Does Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) increase the risk of getting an STD?
What is Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)?
Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) is a condition where the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina is disrupted. This usually happens when there’s a decrease in the number of ‘good’ bacteria known as Lactobacilli, and an increase in ‘bad’ bacteria such as Leptotrichia, Sneathia, Atopobium, etc. BV can cause unusual vaginal discharge.
While BV can be passed on through sexual activity, it’s not classified as a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Women who are not sexually active can also develop BV. It’s worth noting that BV can often be asymptomatic, meaning it doesn’t always show symptoms.
Identifying the Symptoms of BV
Symptoms of BV can include:
- Thin, white, or gray vaginal discharge.
- Itching, burning or pain in the vagina.
- Strong fishy odour, especially after having sex.
- Itching of skin around the vagina.
- Burning sensation while urinating.
How Common is BV?
Based on the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) is the most common vaginal condition among women aged 15-44. The prevalence in the United States is estimated to be 29.2%, affecting 21.2 million women between the ages of 14-49. This data is based on a nationally representative sample of women who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2001 to 2004. Notably, the majority of women diagnosed with BV (84%) reported no symptoms.
How does BV affect your risk of getting an STD?
Replacement of Lactobacilli by some other anaerobic bacteria increases the pH in vagina making it less acidic. This reduces the natural defense against infections, which is active in a more acidic pH.
BV can increase the risk of developing sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, HPV, trichomoniasis, and genital herpes.
Untreated STIs can lead to long-term complications, including:
- Pelvis inflammatory disease (PID) where reproductive organs get infected
- Ectopic pregnancy – fertilized egg gets implanted outside the womb mostly in the fallopian tube.
- Cervical cancer – growth of abnormal cells in the lining of the cervical of the female reproductive tract
Preventing BV and Reducing STD Risk
As BV can often be symptomless, regular testing at a health clinic is crucial. Early treatment can prevent the condition from worsening or leading to STDs. Here are some preventative measures:
- Limiting the number of sexual partners, and consistently using condoms correctly during each sexual encounter can help prevent BV and STDs.
- Refrain from douching or using vaginal deodorants and washes, as these can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina.
- Do not use strong detergents to wash your underwear, as they can potentially cause irritation.
- Do not use strong detergents to wash your underwear.
- Get vaccinated for vaccine-preventable STDs such as HPV, Hepatitis A, and B to reduce the risk of contracting these diseases.
Treating BV and its Importance for Pregnant Women
If BV symptoms are detected, it’s important to seek testing and treatment promptly. Since BV occurs due to the growth of certain bacteria, this bacterial population is controlled by administering antibiotics in the form of either oral pills or applied as a gel or cream that is inserted into the vagina. During the entire course of treatment, one should avoid having sex until the infection is eliminated.
It is also important to know that this condition can reoccur after the treatment and the risk of reoccurrence is increased due to having new or multiple sex partners.
BV can pose serious risks for pregnant women and their babies, including premature birth, low birth weight, miscarriage, infection of amniotic fluid and membranes, and postpartum endometritis (infection of the uterine lining after childbirth).
Therefore it is advised for pregnant women to get tested for BV at the first prenatal visit, and in case of positive results, they should be treated as soon as possible to avoid the above-said complications.
In summary, Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) isa common bacterial infection among women of reproductive age. While not an STI, it can increase the risk of developing STDs and complications during pregnancy. It’s essential to be aware of this condition, recognize the symptoms, and seek professional medical advice promptly if you suspect you might have BV.
Regular check-ups and preventative measures can go a long way towards protecting your health. Don’t hesitate to consult your healthcare provider for more information on BV and the necessary steps to take for prevention and treatment.
The information contained in this article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or health condition. While Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) is a common condition and is associated with an increased risk of certain sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), it is important to remember that every individual is unique. Therefore, this information may not apply to everyone. If you suspect you may have BV or any other health condition, please consult your healthcare provider immediately.
- Muzny C.A and Schwebke J.R. Pathogenesis of Bacterial Vaginosis: Discussion of Current Hypotheses. PubMed central https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3156883/
- M C Morris, P A Rogers, G R Kinghorn. Is bacterial Vaginosis a sexually transmitted infection? In ‘Sexually Transmitted Infections https://sti.bmj.com/content/77/1/63
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The Specialist doctor from the University Hospital in Gothenburg, alumnus UC Berkeley. My doctoral dissertation is about Digital Health and I have published 5 scientific articles in teledermatology and artificial intelligence and others.