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Bacterial Vaginosis vs Sexually Transmitted Infection: What’s the difference?

Watch our video on bacterial vaginosis, featuring Katie Timcho, CNP!

A vaginal infection, in a word, sucks. From itching and discharge to an embarrassing smell, sore, or pain with sex, it’s no fun and not something to delay treating.

Recently, our providers are seeing a growing number of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and instances of bacterial vaginosis behind our clinic doors. We thought it worthwhile to blog about the differences between these types of vaginal infections, and how we typically help rid them from your life.

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) and STIs are different health conditions that affect your reproductive system, some more seriously. They have different causes and different symptoms. In the case of either, we encourage you to avoid self-diagnosis via our friend Google and get into see one of our team for proper evaluation and treatment.

Let’s Talk About BV

BV is a condition that occurs when there is an imbalance in the normal vagina “flora”. A healthy vagina contains a balance of different bacteria; BV happens when there is an overgrowth of a more harmful bacteria. While not everyone has symptoms, it is common to experience itching, a fishy odor, and have a whitish discharge. BV is not an STI, but it is more common in people who are more sexually active because sexual activity can influence the balance of the bacteria and contribute to the start of BV.

Testing for BV usually involves a medical exam/history, assorted vaginal and pH cultures, and if warranted, a course of antibiotics taken either by mouth or applied topically.

Preventing BV includes: maintaining good vaginal hygiene, avoiding irritants such as scented soaps and bubble baths, limiting the number of sexual partners, and condom use.

Our Long-time Nemeses, STIs

Unlike BV, STIs can be caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, or other microorganisms you don’t really want to know about. STIs are transmitted through sexual contact (vagina, anus, oral) with an infected partner. Sometimes an STI can be transmitted through blood, or from a mother to child during breastfeeding or childbirth.

Common STIs, some of which are on the rise (ugh), include chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, hepatitis B, human papillomavirus (HPV), and HIV/AIDS. Symptoms are wide-ranging: pain with peeing, unusual bleeding, discharge, rash, itching, or blisters/sores around your genitals or mouth. Left untreated, many of these STIs can lead to more serious complications than BV, such as pelvic inflammatory disease, liver infections, and in some cases, death.

Testing for STIs includes a medical exam, blood and urine samples, and fluid samples from sores. Treatment can include antibiotics, penicillin, or anti-virals, depending on the STI. Hepatitis B cannot be cured at this point and requires ongoing self- and clinical management.

Preventing STIs includes limiting the number of sexual partners, proper and consistent condom use, using clean needles if injecting drugs, and talking about STI with a new sexual partner.

Talk to Our Team

Don’t wait until your symptoms are beyond uncomfortable. Call 763-587-7000 to schedule an appointment. We will help you figure it out and partner with you to find options that are a fit for you.