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What is Bacterial Vaginosis?

Bacterial vaginosis or gardnerella is the most common vaginal infection. The characteristic sign of bacterial vaginosis (BV, also called "Gardnerella") is a strong "fishy" vaginal odor. This odor may become more pronounced after having sex. Many women with BV notice a discharge from their vagina. The discharge may be clear or colored. It may be very light or heavy. While this infection can be passed between partners (making recurrences difficult to treat), it is not generally considered to be a sexually transmitted disease (STD). The vagina normally contains many "good" bacteria, called lactobacilli, as well as other bacteria, called anaerobes. When conditions cause the anaerobes to proliferate, a mild infection, called bacterial vaginosis, can result. This can occur in women who are not (or who have never been) sexually active, as well as women who are in a mutually monogamous relationship.

Although many cases remain undiagnosed, BV is estimated to affect between 10 and 15 percent of all women. While BV may be asymptomatic and have no apparent consequences, it may also be associated with a range of serious conditions including pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), preterm labor, endometritis, and chorioamnionitis. For this reason, some physicians advocate screening all pregnant women for BV.

The good news is that BV is relatively easy to diagnose and to treat. Your doctor will do an internal examination and take a sample of the discharge with a cotton swab, prepare a slide and look at it under a microscope. Treatment is with antibiotics such as metronidazole or clindamycin; it can be oral or with a vaginal cream or gel. It is critical to avoid drinking any alcohol during this treatment. . .Even the small amounts contained in many cough/cold syrups.

Created: 2/23/2004  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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