This Is The Common Vaginal Infection Most Women Don’t Know They Have

Time for some real talk

When you hear vaginal infection, you may think of thrush. But bacterial vaginosis (BV) is much more common and will affect around one in three Australian women.

Speaking to, Dr Jade Bilardi from Monash University said that, “Most women have heard about thrush, but few women have heard about BV.” 

Even though it is estimated to currently affect 12% of Australian women, bacterial vaginosis is often misdiagnosed. 

The disease can cause milky, thin, white or greyish discharge, a fishy odour, and in some cases pain, itching, or burning inside the vagina (we didn’t say it was pleasant).

These symptoms are commonly diagnosed as thrush simply because it’s more well known. This may cause a huge problem for these women in the future, because while thrush only causes discomfort, BV can have serious consequences. 

The disease can cause a two to three-fold increase in the risk of acquiring STIs (including HIV). BV is also associated with an increased risk of miscarriage, premature labour, and post-partum endometritis.

And because BV is often diagnosed as thrush, women are getting the wrong treatment.

women's health

What happens when you get BV?

The disease occurs when there’s an increase in the number of bad bacteria in the vagina, and a decrease in the good. Dr Dawn Harper describes it as “an imbalance of the bacteria in our vagina.”

The exact cause of BV is unknown, and scientists don’t understand why some women develop BV while others – the lucky ones – don’t.

While they don’t know the exact cause, they know that sexually active women are more likely to come down with the disease. Other things which may increase your chances of getting BV are: sex with a new partner or a woman, not using condoms, and douching.

How can you treat it?

BV is not tested in a pap smear or in STI screenings, so you’ll need to go to your doctor so that they can properly diagnose you and prescribe you with antibiotics.  

The antibiotic treatment is incredibly effective in the short term – with 90% of women cured within one month. However, you won’t be out of the woods at that point, as BV relapses within six months for more than half of the women treated.

To learn more about BV and other vaginal health issues, Monash University and the Alfred Hospital have put together a website to help you understand the disease and recognise if you might have it. 

Related stories