Among women in the United States between the ages of 14 and 49, about 21.2 million have had bacterial vaginosis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A bacterial infection of the reproductive system, bacterial vaginosis occurs due to an imbalance between lactobacilli (good bacteria) and anaerobes (bad bacteria) in the vagina.
This imbalance can result in several different symptoms, including a foul smelling vaginal discharge, pain when engaging in intercourse, vaginal itching, and burning during urination.
However, the majority of women with bacterial vaginosis — 84 percent — do not report having any symptoms, noted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Untreated bacterial vaginosis can result in complications, such as being more susceptible to sexually transmitted disease and developing pelvic inflammatory disease. Women who are pregnant and have bacterial vaginosis face additional complications, such as a higher risk of giving birth prematurely.
Women can take several precautions to reduce their risk of developing bacterial vaginosis. These tips for preventing bacterial vaginosis reduce the risk of causing an imbalance between the lactobacilli and anaerobes.
The first two tips suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are to limit your number of sexual partners or to be abstinent.
While the connection between bacterial vaginosis and sexual intercourse is not completely known, the infection occurs more frequently in women who engage in sexual intercourse with a new partner or multiple partners, noted the MayoClinic.com.
When engaging in sexual activity, use a barrier form of protection, such as a condom.
Nevertheless, sexual intercourse is not the only risk factor for bacterial vaginosis, as 18.8 percent of women who have bacterial vaginosis have never engaged in sexual intercourse — anal, vaginal or oral, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Another tip for preventing bacterial vaginosis is to practice good hygiene in the genital region. For example, when using the bathroom, wipe from the vagina to the anus. Wiping in the other direction can pass bacteria from the anus to the vagina.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health suggested washing the vagina and anus every day using mild soap. The normal balance of bacteria in the vagina can also be maintained by keeping that area cool.
This can be done by wearing underwear that is either cotton or cotton-lined, and avoiding pantyhose and tight pants when it is hot.
Minimizing vaginal irritation can help prevent bacterial vaginosis. When taking a shower, remember to rinse off all the soap around the genital area and dry it.
Using sanitary products and soaps that do not have scents or deodorant can also reduce vaginal irritation. The MayoClinic.com recommended staying out of whirlpool spas and hot tubs.
Women can reduce their risk of developing bacterial vaginosis by not douching. When a woman douches, it can remove normal bacteria from the vagina involved in protecting against infections, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health.
Other tips for preventing bacterial vaginosis include using having regular pelvic examinations and finishing any medication given to treat bacterial vaginosis.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bacterial Vaginosis Statistics. Web. 4 July 2012
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bacterial Vaginosis. Web. 4 July 2012
MayoClinic.com. Bacterial Vaginosis. Web. 4 July 2012
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Bacterial Vaginosis Fact Sheet. Web. 4 July 2012
Reviewed July 4, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith