Bacterial Vaginosis a condition that affects one in three women at some time Picture: File

Bacterial vaginosis affects one in three women at some time. According to Dr Corne Brink, gynaecologist and obstetrician from Fourways Life Hospital in Johannesburg, it is a bacterial infection caused by a shift in the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina.

Brink says that 50 – 75% of women with bacterial vaginosis will not show any symptoms.  “Those with symptoms will usually see an off-white thin homogenous discharge that has a bit of a fishy odour. 

This “fishy smell” is often more pronounced after sexual intercourse”. She says that bacterial vaginosis is mostly seen in women of reproductive age, from approximately 15- 42 years of age, but can be present in older and younger women as well. 

For most women who do have symptoms, the discharge is the only symptom. Some women may also experience itching, pain or burning in and around the vagina.

Although it is not a sexually transmitted infection, bacterial vaginosis can develop after sexual intercourse. Other risk factors include using medicated or perfumed soaps, bubble bath or shower gel, using antiseptic liquids in the bath, using strong detergents to wash your underwear, smoking and if you douche or use vaginal deodorant.

“The word ‘douche’ means to wash or soak. Douching is washing or cleaning out the inside of the vagina with water or other mixtures of fluids. Most douches are sold in stores as pre-packaged mixes of water and vinegar, baking soda, or iodine. The mixtures usually come in a bottle or bag or spray device,” says Dr Taheera Hassim, a Gynaecologist and Obstetrician at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital in Johannesburg. “Many women claim that douching makes them feel cleaner, eliminates embarrassing odours and protects them against infection,” she says.  

For at least the last 100 years, there have been mixed opinions on whether this age old practice is harmful or beneficial. Today there seems to be a global medical consensus that douching is definitely not needed for vaginal hygiene and that it is associated with many possible negative consequences including bacterial vaginosis.

“Many women douche, but doctors do not recommend it. Douching changes the balance of natural chemicals in your vagina. This can make it easier for one to get these infections. The vagina, like many other areas of the body, can cleanse itself. Thus there is very little reason for a normal, healthy woman to use a vaginal douche. Douching can upset the balance of the vaginal flora and change the vaginal pH, thus predisposing the woman to vaginitis,” says Dr Hassim.

The good news is that bacterial vaginosis is treatable. Treatment options include gels, creams and oral treatments. 

Brink says that most of the time, women with bacterial vaginosis react well to a gel which is the most commonly prescribed treatment in her practice.

Gel treatment is administered vaginally meaning that the infected area is treated directly.

For treatment for Bacterial Vaginosis, speak to your doctor or health care professional about a water based gel formulation that stays in the vagina, is unlikely to stain clothes or linen, is greaseless, fragrance free and lastly has minimal reported side effects.

The gel also contains no mineral oil and will not weaken latex contraceptives. It is also less likely to build resistance and can therefore be used for recurrent treatments. 

Gel treatment is generally administered once a day for five consecutive days at bed time. 

Untreated Bacterial Vaginosis can not only lead to increased risk factors for various medical conditions and complications, but can also have a substantial negative impact on a woman's quality of life, including placing a strain on romantic relationships and self-image.