Gardnerella vaginalis is the most common causative agent of a vaginal infection called bacterial vaginosis (BV). BV is a fairly common infection of the female reproductive tract which can cause uncomfortable symptoms and increase your risk of future health complications, such as getting an STD.
Keep reading to learn more about Gardnerella vaginalis, its causes, symptoms, and treatment.
What is Gardnerella vaginalis?
Gardnerella vaginalis is a type of bacteria that frequently causes a vaginal infection called bacterial vaginosis (BV). BV is the most common cause of abnormal vaginal discharge in women who haven’t entered menopause.
Technically speaking, Gardnerella vaginalis and BV aren’t sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), since they aren’t typically spread from one person to another. Instead, BV is thought to be caused by an imbalance between the “good” and “harmful” types of bacteria that normally live inside your vagina. However, we do know that BV rarely affects women who haven’t had sex before, and that sexual activity increases your risk of getting BV.
How common is Gardnerella vaginalis?
According to the CDC, bacterial vaginosis is the most common vaginal condition that affects women between the ages of 15 to 44 years old. Although the exact incidence of BV is unknown, since it can often be asymptomatic, this condition has been estimated to affect nearly 30 percent of women (approximately 21.2 million women) aged 14-49 in the United States.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, your risk of getting BV could be higher if you:
- Don’t use condoms or dental dams during sex
- Have multiple sex partners
- Have a female sex partner
- Have recently had a new sex partner
- Are pregnant
- Have a hormonal intrauterine device (IUD)
- Use vaginal douches
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Symptoms of Gardnerella vaginalis
Gardnerella vaginalis infections are frequently asymptomatic; in fact, it has been estimated that nearly 84 percent of all cases of BV don’t cause any symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of BV caused by Gardnerella vaginalis can include:
- Whitish, gray, or greenish vaginal discharge
- “Fishy” vaginal smell, particularly after having sex
- Vaginal itching or soreness
- Pain during urination
In addition to these symptoms, Gardnerella vaginalis could also increase your risk of future health complications. This bacteria has been linked to an increased risk of acquiring other STDs — including HIV —, preterm birth, low birth weight, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), and fertility problems, among others.
Men don’t develop signs of BV, but according to a study published by the journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases, the presence of Gardnerella vaginalis has been detected in urethral swabs of men with partners who did have BV. This means that men could possibly carry the bacteria and spread it to new partners, or reinfect their partners after treatment.
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When to see a doctor
It’s always important to seek medical assistance if you experience any new symptoms affecting your reproductive system, especially if you’ve had unprotected sex recently.
Symptoms like abnormal vaginal discharge and pain during urination or intercourse can be caused by a large number of STDs, and you should get tested for different diseases so the correct diagnosis can be made. This will determine what treatment you receive, and it can also help prevent recurrences and future health complications.
If your doctor suspects that you have BV, they could perform a pelvic exam and take a sample of vaginal fluid for testing. This sample will be analyzed under a microscope to look for the Gardnerella vaginalis bacteria. Your doctor could also test your vaginal pH, since an altered pH could also be a sign of BV. You could also get tested at an urgent care facility or using an at-home STD testing kit.
Treatment for Gardnerella vaginalis
If your tests come back positive for BV, the good news is that a simple antibiotic treatment will usually eradicate the infection. According to the CDC’s treatment guidelines, treating BV can reduce your risk of getting other STDs, including:
- M. genitalum
- Herpes type 2
Most cases of BV caused by Gardnerella vaginalis respond very well to treatment with 500 mg of oral metronidazole, which is taken twice a day for 7 days. A metronidazole intravaginal gel can also be used. A different topical antibiotic called clindamycin can also be used in women who can’t receive metronidazole due to allergies or other reasons.
It’s very important to avoid any alcohol intake while you receive treatment with metronidazole, and for at least 48 hours after finishing your treatment. This medication can interact with alcohol and cause uncomfortable symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, heart palpitations, tachycardia, and chest pain, among others.
Keep in mind that, just like with any other STD, practicing safe sex and getting tested regularly are the best ways to prevent the spread of Gardnerella vaginalis. Thanks to at-home STD testing kits, you’ll now be able to screen for STDs without having to leave the comfort and privacy of your own home. You can learn more about STD testing at STDWatch.com.
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- Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) Statistics - cdc.gov
- Bacterial Vaginosis - my.clevelandclinic.org
- Bacterial vaginosis - mayoclinic.org
- Prevalence of Gardnerella vaginalis in Male Sexual Partners of Women With and Without Bacterial Vaginosis - journals.lww.com
- Bacterial Vaginosis - cdc.gov