Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is an infection that results from the imbalance of bacterial flora in the vagina. This occurs when the ‘good’ bacteria – known as vaginal lactobacillus – become depleted. BV affects between 15 to 50% of sexually active women in their reproductive years, and it is estimated that about one in five women will experience it at some point in their pregnancies.
We take a look at some of the most commonly asked questions about this infection during pregnancy.
Can BV affect my pregnancy?
The link between BV and complications during pregnancy is not 100% clear, but there are associated risks. Cape Town-based obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Sascha Edelstein says, “BV is associated with an increased risk of preterm premature rupture of membranes [when your “waters break” prior to labour] and preterm labour.”
There is also an associated risk of uterine infection after delivery, and some studies have shown a connection between BV and miscarriage in the second trimester. But it should be noted that these are not conclusive studies.
In fact, most women with BV have normal pregnancies. Additionally, about half of the cases resolve on their own without any medical intervention.
How is BV diagnosed?
If you suspect that you may have BV, speak to your healthcare provider about being tested. BV may cause “an odorous, thin yellow-white discharge that is more noticeable after sexual intercourse,” explains Dr Edelstein. Less common symptoms include irritation in the genital area and burning when urinating.
Diagnosis will require a specimen of vaginal and/or cervical secretion to be examined by a pathologist. This will also establish – or eliminate – the possible presence of a sexually transmitted infection (STI) such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea, or a yeast infection such as thrush.
How is BV treated during pregnancy?
A course of antibiotics (safe for use in pregnancy) will be prescribed. These should clear up the infection and its symptoms. As with any antibiotic medication, it’s important to take as directed and to finish the course, and to let your healthcare practitioner know if symptoms come back.
There is some debate over whether BV is a “sexually acquired infection or sexually associated, that is, that it is exacerbated by sexual intercourse,” says Dr Edelstein. “If infection recurs, consideration should be given to testing and treating sexual partners as well,” he adds.
How can I avoid getting BV?
Because there are no definite answers about what causes the flora imbalance, there is no clear why to avoid getting BV. There are, however, a number of ways you can reduce your risk of BV, including:
- Practise safe sex: BV appears to be more common in women with multiple sexual partners, new partners and among gay women.
- Stop smoking: Smoking cigarettes increases the risk of BV
- Avoid vaginal douching, the use of feminine hygiene sprays and scented soaps in the genital area, and bubble baths. These kinds of products upset the balance of bacteria in the vagina.
IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com