Bacterial vaginosis is the most common type of vaginal infection that falls under the more general category of "vaginitis." Many women may wonder if this type of vaginitis is contagious so they can take proper precautions. Unfortunately, the exact causes of bacterial vaginosis are still largely a mystery even to health authorities at the Centers for Disease Control and the Mayo Clinic, who note that sexual intercourse can spread bacterial vaginosis, but that it's also seen in women who aren't sexually active as well. However, there are known factors that put certain groups of women more at risk for getting bacterial vaginosis.
Bacterial Vaginosis Overview
A healthy vagina has a proper balance of healthy and harmful bacteria, or "flora," such as the lactobacillus bacteria type that keeps the vagina's pH levels in balance. When unhealthy bacteria overtake the helpful bacteria, the pH balance is disrupted and infection occurs. Women with bacterial vaginosis may experience symptoms such as tenderness and itching in and around the vagina, burning during urination, and a thin vaginal discharge that has a fishy odor. Discharge usually is more pronounced after sex.
Can I Get It From a Partner?
Bacterial vaginosis isn't considered a sexually transmitted disease, as male partners don't have the same germ inside of them that causes them to experience a similar condition. For this reason, a woman's male sexual partner usually will not be treated if she has bacterial vaginosis. However, according to the CDC, bacterial vaginosis can be spread between female sexual partners.
Although the role of sexual activity and bacterial vaginosis hasn't been definitively established, women who have multiple sexual partners or a new sexual partner tend to be more at risk for bacterial vaginosis. Other factors that may increase incidence of bacterial vaginosis are use of an intrauterine device (IUD) and douching.
Aside from causing discomfort, bacterial vaginosis usually doesn't result in serious health complications. However, it can make women more susceptible to other sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS/HIV. Pregnant women are at risk for premature delivery and low-weight babies. Bacterial vaginosis has also been linked to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can result in infertility and ectopic pregnancy.
Bacterial vaginosis is treated with antibiotics, either in oral or topical form. A doctor will typically prescribe either metronidazole or clindamycin to resolve the infection. Even though male sexual partners generally are not treated, women who have same-sex partners should discuss the possible need for concomitant diagnosis and treatment.