SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- Bacterial vaginosis (or BV) often has no symptoms, but can cause a watery, white or grey vaginal discharge with a strong smell.
- Bacterial vaginosis may be caused by having sex. However, it is still yet unknown whether it is transmitted from person to person via sex.
- Bacterial vaginosis is usually treated with antibiotics (either tablets or a vaginal cream).
About bacterial vaginosis (BV)
It is normal for a healthy vagina to have many types of bacteria present.
Bacterial vaginosis (or BV) is common. It is caused by an imbalance of the bacteria normally present in the vagina. In people with BV, the normal healthy bacteria (in particular, lactobacilli) are replaced by an overgrowth of other mixed bacteria.
The exact cause of BV is unknown.
Symptoms of bacterial vaginosis (BV)
Symptoms of BV may include:
- a change or increase of discharge from the vagina
- a strong or unusual odour from the vagina (often described as a ‘fishy smell’)
- vaginal discomfort and/or itch.
Possible causes of bacterial vaginosis (BV)
Although the causes of bacterial vaginosis are unknown, BV may be associated with:
- a change in sexual partner
- having a sexual partner who has a vagina
- not using barrier methods (such as and ) consistently
- douching (washing the inside of the vagina).
Research has not conclusively found a link between BV and specific sexual practices or acts. However, recent evidence supports the use of condoms to reduce the risk of this infection.
Diagnosis of bacterial vaginosis (BV)
Diagnosis of BV is made based on signs and symptoms and lab tests. During a medical examination, your doctor may notice:
- a lot of vaginal discharge
- odour from the vagina
- decreased acidity of the vaginal fluid on pH testing.
Treatment for bacterial vaginosis (BV)
If you have no symptoms, treatment for BV is usually not required. BV is 'self-limiting' (meaning it will go away by itself).
Many people with BV do not experience complications. However, BV has been linked with , and low infant birth weight. BV has also been associated with and increased risk of getting a sexually transmissible infection (STI).
Seek treatment if:
- You are about to have a medical procedure that could allow bacteria into the uterus (for example, , or ).
- – talk to your GP, obstetrician or midwife about treatment for BV.
- Symptoms of BV are affecting your quality of life and you are avoiding sex because of it.
Prescription medication for bacterial vaginosis (BV)
An antibiotic (tablet) called metronidazole can be used to treat BV. If your doctor prescribes metronidazole you will need to:
- Take the antibiotic twice a day for 7 days.
- Take the tablets after meals – this can reduce the nausea and upset stomach that is sometimes associated with this medication.
- Avoid drinking alcohol while taking this medication.
Vaginal cream for bacterial vaginosis (BV)
Doctors can also prescribe a vaginal cream (such as clindamycin) if you are unable to take metronidazole. Clindamycin is applied to the vagina for 7 nights.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) reinfection
Even after treatment, about half of the people with BV will get the condition back within 6 to 12 months.
Research is being conducted to see if treating partners of people with BV helps to reduce reinfection.
If symptoms of BV return after treatment, see your doctor.
Preventing bacterial vaginosis (BV)
While condoms and dams may help to people avoid BV, they are not completely protective.
Avoid using douches, deodorants or perfumed products (sometimes sold as 'feminine products') in and around the vagina.
Where to get help
- Your pharmacist (including after hours )
- . To book an appointment call SHV Melbourne CBD Clinic: or call SHV Box Hill Clinic: or (free call): . These services are youth friendly.
- Tel. or or TTY (for the hearing impaired)
- (formerly Victorian AIDS Council) Tel. or
- Tel. Or
- , Wodonga Tel. or
- Tel: is a statewide phone service for information about sexual health as well as contraception and pregnancy options
- (throughout Victoria)
- Tel. (24 hours)
- , East Melbourne Tel.