Bacterial vaginosis occurs when the normal bacterial flora of the vagina is disrupted and replaced by an overproduction of other types of bacteria. Symptoms include a fishy odor and discharge, as well as itching, burning or pain. Women can also have bacterial vaginosis without symptoms.
It's the most common vaginal infection in women of childbearing age and is associated with preterm delivery and low birth weight babies, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Though treatable by antibiotics, bacterial vaginosis tends to recur, Erbelding said.
Previous research has shown that 15 percent to 30 percent of women have symptomatic bacterial vaginosis within three months after taking antibiotics, and 70 percent have a recurrence within nine months.
"As a clinician, we are always frustrated by the fact that our treatments aren't very good," Erbelding said. "They may ameliorate the symptoms for some time, but often bacterial vaginosis recurs."
Racial minorities are at greater risk of bacterial vaginosis, Erbelding said. In the study, about 82 percent of participants were black and 69 percent had been diagnosed with bacterial vaginosis before.
Bacterial vaginosis is also associated with sexual activity, douching and sexually transmitted diseases, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes simplex virus and HIV.
Researchers aren't sure if bacterial vaginosis makes a woman more susceptible to the other infections or if the other infections make vaginosis more likely, Erbelding said.
"Nobody really knows which comes first," Erbelding said.
Hormonal contraceptives may help ward off a recurrence by altering the vaginal ecology or by reducing menstruation, which is also associated with changes to vaginal bacteria levels, according to the study.
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