The main points

  • It usually only happens in those who have sex.
  • BV will often cause no symptoms.
  • BV is usually treated with a course of antibiotic tablets or a vaginal antibiotic cream.

What is it?

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is an imbalance in the normal bacteria in the vagina. It is a very common cause of an abnormal vaginal discharge. Many people will have it at some stage in their life.

What are the symptoms?

BV will often cause no symptoms. If symptoms are present, they can include:

  • an unpleasant fishy vaginal odour
  • an abnormal, thin, greyish vaginal discharge
  • itching/irritation around the vagina.

How do you get it?

The reason for getting BV is unknown. It usually only happens in those who have sex.

You may be more likely to get BV if you:

  • have had a recent new sexual partner
  • receive oral sex
  • don’t use condoms with male partners
  • have had more than 5 male sexual partners in the last year
  • have a female sexual partner
  • douche or clean inside your vagina
  • are a sex worker
  • are sexually active and are a smoker.

Should my partner/s be treated?

Sometimes it is helpful to test and treat partners with a vagina, but other partners do not need to be treated.

How can I prevent it?

You may be less likely to get BV or have it come back if you:

  • use hormonal contraception, e.g. the pill
  • use condoms with male partners
  • have partner/s with a vagina and they are treated if they develop BV

When can I have sex again?

If you have partners with a vagina you might be advised to not have sex until your symptoms have settled. You don’t need to avoid sex with other partners if you have BV.

What will happen if it’s not treated?

If it is not bothering you, you do not need to have treatment unless you are:

  • Pregnant
  • At high risk of a sexually transmissible infection
  • About to have
    • an IUD inserted
    • an abortion
    • surgery to your vagina or uterus

Treatment is often suggested if you have sexual partners who have a vagina.

What tests will I need?

Your doctor or nurse will take a swab test from the vagina to test a discharge for BV.

How is it treated?

BV is usually treated with a course of antibiotic tablets or a vaginal antibiotic cream.

Avoid excessive washing, as this can make any irritation worse.

Will it come back?

Treatment usually works well, but for many people BV comes back within the next three months to a year. Treatment can be repeated.

Where to get more information, support or advice


This website provides general information only. The suitability of such general information varies from person to person, depending on individual circumstances. You should seek specific medical or legal advice for your individual circumstances.

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Last updated: 5 June 2016

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