Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) isn't a sexually transmitted infection. It is an imbalance of the normal bacteria found in a woman’s vagina.  

How do you get BV?

Bacterial vaginosis can’t be passed from person to person but it is more common in people who are sexually active Other things that may increase your risk of getting it include:

  • Having a new sexual partner
  • Having multiple sexual partners
  • Smoking
  • Using scented soaps or perfumed bubble bath
  • Putting antiseptic liquids in the bath
  • Douching (washing or cleaning out the vagina with water or other fluids)
  • Using vaginal deodorant
  • Using strong detergents to wash your underwear

What are the symptoms of BV?

Often there are no symptoms, but some women may notice a change in their normal discharge from the vagina. This discharge will usually be; 

  • white or grey, 
  • thin or watery 
  • and have a strong, unpleasant fishy smell, which can be more noticeable during and after sex, and during periods. 
  • Usually doesn’t cause itching or irritation.

What should I do if I think I have BV?

Visit your GP or sexual health service. The nurse or doctor may use a swab (similar to a cotton bud) to collect a sample of the discharge from your vagina. 

How do you treat BV?

Bacterial vaginosis is treated with antibiotics. This can be by tablets by mouth or a antibiotic or gel that is put in the vagina. There is currently no evidence that probiotics, such as those found in live yoghurt, are of any benefit for treating or preventing bacterial vaginosis.
You can still have sex whilst you are being treated for bacterial vaginosis because it is not sexually transmitted, however antibiotics and cream can affect condoms and other contraception so speak to your doctor or pharmacist who can give you more information.

What if I am pregnant?

Make sure you tell the doctor or nurse if you are pregnant or think you might be, or if you are breastfeeding – this amy affect the type of treatment you are given. BV can affect your pregnancy so it is important to be checked if you have a change in discharge.

How do you prevent BV?

The causes of bacterial vaginosis are not fully understood, so it may not be possible to 
completely prevent it. However, you may be able to lower your risk of developing it by:

  • Not using scented soaps and perfumed bubble bath
  • Not using vaginal deodorant
  • Not douching (washing or cleaning out your vagina)
  • Not putting antiseptic liquids in the bath
  • Not using strong detergent

Does my partner need treatment?

No partners do not need treatment.