In the United States, 29.2 percent of women between the ages of 14 and 49 are estimated to have bacterial vaginosis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A reproductive system infection, bacterial vaginosis results from the balance of lactobacilli (good bacteria) and anaerobes (bad bacteria) being thrown off with too many anaerobes in the vagina.
This infection can spread through sexual intercourse. But even women who have never had sex can still develop bacterial vaginosis.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 18.8 percent of women who have never engaged in anal, oral or vaginal sex have had bacterial vaginosis.
Bacterial vaginosis can cause several symptoms, including abnormal vaginal discharge, which may smell fishy and have a thin grayish-white appearance. Some women may have pain during intercourse or a burning sensation when they urinate.
However, 84 percent of women with bacterial vaginosis do not have any symptoms, according to the CDC.
In most cases, women do not develop complications from bacterial vaginosis. However, women who do not get treated are at risk for other disorders of the reproductive system.
One group at risk for complications from bacterial vaginosis is pregnant women. If a woman is pregnant and she does not receive treatment, she is at risk for a premature birth.
Bacterial vaginosis can also increase the risk for a low birth weight, in which the infant’s birth weight is less than 5.5 pounds.
Sometimes, bacterial vaginosis can affect the woman’s fallopian tubes and uterus, resulting in a condition called pelvic inflammatory disease. Health problems that can occur with pelvic inflammatory disease include infertility and damage to the fallopian tubes.
If the fallopian tubes sustain enough damage, it puts the woman at risk for an ectopic pregnancy.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health added that women who have bacterial vaginosis have a higher risk of developing pelvic inflammatory disease after a surgery of the reproductive system, such as an abortion or hysterectomy.