Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is bacterial vaginosis?

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is an imbalance of bacteria in the vagina. Women with bacterial vaginosis sometimes have vaginal discharge or an odor. Any woman can get bacterial vaginosis. Having BV can increase your chance of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

How common is bacterial vaginosis?

Bacterial vaginosis of the most common cause of vaginal discharge in women. As many as 1 in every 3 women have bacterial vaginosis.

How is bacterial vaginosis spread?

Women get BV when there is an imbalance of “good” versus “bad” bacteria in the vagina. Some of the things that can change the balance of bacteria in the vagina are getting your period, douching, or having sex. Bacterial vaginosis is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI), but it may increase your chances of getting an STI.

How do I know if I have bacterial vaginosis?

Many women with BV do not have symptoms. If you do have symptoms, you may notice a thin white or gray vaginal discharge, odor, or pain in the vagina. Some women have a strong fish-like odor, especially after sex.

How can I get tested for bacterial vaginosis?

Your health care provider will do a vaginal exam to look for signs of bacterial vaginosis. They will perform a laboratory test on a sample of vaginal fluid to see if bacterial vaginosis is present

How can I treat bacterial vaginosis?

Sometimes BV will go away without a treatment. You can also get a prescription for antibiotics from your health care provider.

What happens if I don’t get treated?

You may have continued symptoms of BV, including vaginal discharge or odor. BV may increase your risk of getting HIV or giving HIV to a partner. BV may also increase your chances of getting other STDs such as gonorrhea and chlamydia.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines, 2015. MMWR, 64(RR-3) (2015).

Hillier S and Holmes K. Bacterial vaginosis. In: K. Holmes, P. Sparling, P. Mardh et al (eds). Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 3rd Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1999, 563-586.

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