Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common vaginal disorder in women of reproductive age. Since the initial work of Leopoldo in 1953 and Gardner and Dukes in 1955, researchers have not been able to identify the causative etiologic agent of BV. There is increasing evidence, however, that BV occurs when Lactobacillus spp., the predominant species in healthy vaginal flora, are replaced by anaerobic bacteria, such as Gardenella vaginalis, Mobiluncus curtisii, M. mulieris, other anaerobic bacteria and/or Mycoplasma hominis. Worldwide, it estimated that 20-30% of women of reproductive age attending sexually transmitted infection (STI) clinics suffer from BV, and that its prevalence can be as high as 50-60% in high-risk populations (e.g., those who practice commercial sex work (CSW). Epidemiological data show that women are more likely to report BV if they: 1) have had a higher number of lifetime sexual partners; 2) are unmarried; 3) have engaged in their first intercourse at a younger age; 4) have engaged in CSW, and 5) practice regular douching. In the past decade, several studies have provided evidence on the contribution of sexual activity to BV. However, it is difficult to state that BV is a STI without being able to identify the etiologic agent. BV has also emerged as a public health problem due to its association with other STIs, including: human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), Chlamydia trachomatis (CT) and Neisseria gonorrhoeae (NG). The most recent evidence on the association between BV and CT/NG infection comes from two secondary analyses of cohort data conducted among women attending STI clinics. Based on these studies, women with BV had a 1.8 and 1.9-fold increased risk for NG and CT infection, respectively. Taken together, BV is likely a risk factor or at least an important contributor to subsequent NG or CT infection in high-risk women. Additional research is required to determine whether this association is also present in other low-risk sexually active populations, such as among women in the US military. It is essential to conduct large scale cross-sectional or population-based case-control studies to investigate the role of BV as a risk factor for CT/NG infections. These studies could lead to the development of interventions aimed at reducing the burden associated with bacterial STIs worldwide.
- Bacterial vaginosis