26 September 2011
New studies provide compelling evidence that bacterial vaginosis (BV) - a type of vaginal infection - is both common and caused by organisms that are sexually transmitted, Melbourne researchers say.
A study examining vaginal swab results from 1100 women aged 16–25 years recruited from GP and sexual health clinics provides Australia’s first figures for BV prevalence rate of 11.8 per cent. The study was to be presented at the Australasian Sexual Health Conference in Canberra (28-30 Sep 2011).
Young women with BV were twice as likely as those with no BV to report increased numbers of male sexual partners, and 3 times more likely to report a female sexual partner.
"There is a lot of skepticism out there about whether BV is sexually transmitted or not," said Dr Catriona Bradshaw, clinical associate professor at the University of Melbourne’s School of Population Health.
"We haven't got enough data to prove that it is or isn't, but it is so highly suggestive from the studies we do," Dr Bradshaw said.
While BV was described by doctors as an imbalance in vaginal flora with an unknown cause, an emerging and controversial view characterised it as "poly-microbial infection" - infection with multiple organisms - she said.
Another study added "compelling evidence" that can be a sexually transmitted infection (STI), finding none of the suspected causes of BV in women who have never had sex, greater frequency of these organisms with greater sexual exposure, and certain organisms associated with oral sex.
However, most trials involving co-treatment of male partners showed no impact on BV recurrence in women, Dr Bradshaw said.
"We can't prove that there is a disease or organism present in men so we may, in fact, not be using the right treatment in men."
Meanwhile a trial of combination therapy in women with BV has found that adding vaginal clindamycin or a vaginal probiotic to oral metronidazole did not reduce rates of BV recurrence over 6 months.
"Combination therapy does not appear to add any benefit from monotherapy [treatment with a single medicine] alone," Dr Bradshaw said.
Last Reviewed: 26 September 2011