Last updated: May 15, 2008

Bacterial vaginosis, or BV, is a catchall name for the overgrowth of certain types of bacteria, such as gardnerella, in the vagina. BV is the most common vaginal infection in women of childbearing age. It is generally not considered to be a sexually transmitted disease (STD), but recent research indicates that transmission may occur woman-to-woman through lesbian sex.



Douching or having multiple sex partners puts you at higher risk for developing BV. One telltale symptom of BV is a fishy-smelling vaginal discharge.

BV is rarely a big deal, especially if it's caught early. But it's a risk factor for preterm delivery and can also make you more susceptible to becoming infected with HIV, according to Jeanne Marrazzo, MD, an STD specialist at the University of Washington medical school. Having BV can also increase your risk of getting a uterine infection.

Researchers are looking at BV in search of treatment improvements, says H. Hunter Handsfield, MD, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle and a nationally recognized STD expert. BV can be easily treated with antibiotics, but "at least half of women who have BV who are treated have a relapse," Dr. Handsfield reports.