Expert Answers Factual Answers to Your Sexual Health Questions

Anonymous on August 9, 2011

What is bacterial vaginosis? Is bacterial vaginosis an STD?

After a regular Pap smear at my gynecologist's office, I found out I have an infection called gardenella (bacterial vaginosis). What is it? Is it an STD? I don’t want my husband to get this infection...is that even possible? My husband doesn’t show any signs, but I’m still nervous! Thank you.

answered by
Lisa Oldson, MD on August 9, 2011

Great question. Many people are confused by what bacterial vaginosis is and if it can be passed sexually. You’ve done the right thing by visiting your doctor for treatment for the infection and I encourage you to continue a dialogue with your doctor if your symptoms don’t clear up soon. That said, I’m happy to offer some insight into bacterial vaginosis for your consideration...

First, you won’t pass bacterial vaginosis (BV) to your husband. BV is not an STD, although it can make you more vulnerable to getting an STD. Following are a few additional thoughts about BV that might be helpful to you.

What exactly is BV? It’s a condition that happens when “bad” bacteria (anaerobes) grow in the vagina and outnumber “good” bacteria (lactobacilli). Common symptoms include a discharge that is grayish-white and is often described as smelling “fishy.” This odor can be more prominent after sexual intercourse. Researchers aren’t quite sure why, but BV happens more often in women who have multiple sex partners or a new sex partner.

And if you have BV, you’re more at risk for an STD if you have unprotected sex with a partner who has an STD. Practicing safer sex is always a good idea, but it may be particularly important for people who have BV. Use of condoms or dental dams for each and every vaginal, anal or oral sex encounter. If you aren’t sure if any of your previous partners had an STD, getting tested is the only way to know for sure. You can learn more about STD symptoms and testing in our Expert Guide to STD Basics.

Typically, BV is treated with antibiotics. Depending on the situation, a doctor will decide if oral antibiotics or a vaginal gel will do the best job of curing the infection. When you do begin treatment, remember that finishing your antibiotic is important. Or more thing...the BV medication called Clindamycin is a type of gel that’s inserted in the vagina. It can weaken latex condoms for up to five days after the end of treatment. In other words, not having sex until five days after taking the gel is a good idea for safer sex.

Thanks for getting in touch, and I wish you and your husband a healthy future.

Related info:

Lisa Oldson, MD

Dr. Oldson is Medical Director of the Analyte Physicians Group. She is on staff at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, as well as Clinical Instructor at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. Her areas of expertise include STDs (with a particular clinical emphasis on herpes), women's health, preventive medicine, diabetes, obesity and weight management, and mood and anxiety disorders. Dr. Oldson was educated at Rush Medical College and completed her residency at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, IL.

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