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Bacterial Vaginosis

Quick Facts

What is it?

  • Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the most common type of vaginal infection and occurs when there is an imbalance in the bacteria that are normally found in a woman’s vagina.
  • Having bacterial vaginosis can increase your chance of getting a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
Laboratory tests can confirm the presence of BV.Antibiotic medication is usually used to treat BV.Limit number of sex partners & do not douche.

What is bacterial vaginosis?

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is an infection that is linked to an imbalance of “good” and “harmful” bacteria that are normally found in a woman’s vagina. Bacterial vaginosis is the most common vaginal infection in women ages 15-44.

How is bacterial vaginosis spread?

The exact cause of BV is unknown. Doctors and scientists do not completely understand how sex contributes to BV or how it is spread. BV is not considered an STD, but having BV can increase the risk of getting and/or spreading other STDs, including HIV. BV rarely affects women who have never had sex.

You cannot get BV from toilet seats, bedding, or swimming pools.

What are the symptoms of bacterial vaginosis?

Many women with BV do not have symptoms.

If symptoms are present, they may include:

  • A thin white or gray vaginal discharge.
  • A strong fish-like odor especially after sex.
  • Pain, itching, or burning in the vagina.
  • Burning when urinating.
  • Itching around the outside of the vagina.

What are the risk factors for bacterial vaginosis?

A risk factor is the chance that something will harm or otherwise affect a person’s health.

Risk factors for BV include:

  • Having a new sex partner.
  • Having multiple sex partners.
  • Douching.

Are there tests for bacterial vaginosis?

A healthcare provider will perform an external examination of the vagina for signs of BV and perform laboratory tests on a sample of vaginal fluid to determine if BV is present.

How is bacterial vaginosis treated?

BV will sometimes go away without treatment. If symptoms of BV are present, a healthcare provider should be consulted and provide treatment with antibiotics. It is important to take all the medicine that is prescribed, even if symptoms are no longer present. BV can recur even after treatment.

Male sex partners of women diagnosed with BV generally do not need to be treated. However, BV may be transferred between female sex partners.

I was treated for bacterial vaginosis. Can I get it again?

Having BV once does not protect you from getting it again. Only laboratory tests can confirm whether you have BV. Follow-up testing by your healthcare provider is recommended to make sure that your treatment was successful.

What happens if I don't get treated?

Without treatment, BV may pose some serious health risks, including:

  • Increasing your chance of getting HIV if you have sex with someone who is infected with HIV.
  • If you are HIV positive, increasing your chance of passing HIV to your sex partner.
  • If you are pregnant, making it more likely that you will have a preterm (before 37 weeks) birth.
  • Increasing your chance of getting other STDs such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. These bacteria can sometimes cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can make it difficult or impossible for you to have children.

What are the implications of bacterial vaginosis on pregnancy?

Pregnant women can get BV. Pregnant women with BV are more likely to have babies who are born prematurely (at less than 37 weeks) or with low birth weight than women who do not have BV while pregnant. Low birth weight means having a baby that weighs less than 5.5 pounds at birth.

Treatment is especially important for pregnant women.


  • Bacterial Vaginosis
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines, 2015
  • Nelson DB, Hanlon A, Hassan S, et al. (2000). Preterm labor and bacterial vaginosis-associated bacteria among urban women. Journal of Perinatal Medicine, 37:130–4.
  • Cohen CR, Lingappa JR, Baeten JM, et al. (2012). Bacterial vaginosis associated with increased risk of female-to-male HIV-1 transmission: a prospective cohort analysis among African couples. PLoS Med, 9:e1001251.
  • Bautista, C. T., Wurapa, E., Sateren, W. B., Morris, S., Hollingsworth, B., & Sanchez, J. L. (2016). Bacterial vaginosis: a synthesis of the literature on etiology, prevalence, risk factors, and relationship with chlamydia and gonorrhea infections. Military Medical Research, 3, 4. http://doi.org/10.1186/s40779-016-0074-5

Did you know? (Bacterial Vaginosis)

Did You Know?

Did you know?BV can increase the risk of STD infection, but condoms can help protect against STDs.

Learn more about male condoms

Content created by Office of Population Affairs
Content last reviewed on March 19, 2019