Men and women to be treated for Bacterial Vaginosis

Women suffering from bacterial vaginosis could find relief from the debilitating infection with a new trial that will look to improve cure rates by also treating male sexual partners of affected women with a new treatment option.

In a world first, expert agencies are conducting the study to determine if repeat recurrence of bacterial vaginosis is reduced when male partners of affected women are also prescribed a combination of oral and topical antibiotics.

Recent evidence has indicated that bacteria related to the infection may be exchanged between partners during sex and that women who have the same sexual partner before and after treatment, or who don't use condoms, are more likely to experience repeat infection.

The expert research group includes Monash University and Melbourne Sexual Health Centre (The Alfred Hospital), alongside Family Planning NSW, Family Planning VIC, and Sydney Sexual Health Centre.

According to Family Planning NSW Medical Director Dr Deborah Bateson, bacterial vaginosis can be stressful to manage for the more than one million Australian women who experience it.

"This is the first time we are looking at a potential solution for long-term infection control of bacterial vaginosis. If this partner treatment improves cure rates, we will see a major shift in the clinical management of BV and the first treatment advancement in over a decade," Dr Bateson said.

"Bacterial vaginosis can be associated with shame and stigma for many women who are affected by it. The symptoms are unpleasant, uncomfortable and can affect daily life and even relationships. There is also the potential for complications during pregnancy and childbirth if the infection is not properly addressed.

"We are still seeing more than 50 per cent of women diagnosed with bacterial vaginosis experiencing recurrence within three to six months of treatment. For an infection that’s so common and often difficult to cope with, that's not what women want to experience."

The trial, which needs 342 couples to take part, will involve women receiving standard antibiotic treatment for the infection. Their male partners will be allocated into two groups and assigned oral and topical dual antibiotic treatment or no treatment (the current standard practice). Couples will be monitored over three months and supply self-collected samples throughout the process to see if treating both partners helps with curing the infection.

Women who are interested in taking part in the trial can attend an appointment at any of the participating locations and have their bacterial vaginosis diagnosed on the spot without referral. Male partners can be enrolled at a time that suits them in person or over the phone.

To learn more about the study or to register interest, visit: https://bvstepup.org.au/, call 03 9341 6244 or email STOPBV@mshc.org.au.

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About bacterial vaginosis:

Bacterial vaginosis (also known as BV) is a common vaginal infection that occurs when there is a decrease in the healthy vaginal bacteria (lactobacilli) and an overgrowth of other bacteria.

Associated symptoms include an unpleasant strong, fishy smell and a thin, watery white or grey discharge. Pain, itching or burning are also sometimes present. Women who experience the infection often notice a fluctuation in symptoms associated with their menstrual cycle, and even with treatment the condition can come back.

Bacterial vaginosis is more prevalent in women who are sexually active and initial diagnosis is often associated with sex with a new partner. It is more likely to recur in women who have the same sexual partner before and after treatment, or who do not use condoms. Having a female sexual partner and practices such as douching are also linked.

If left untreated, bacterial vaginosis can lead to pregnancy and birth complications including miscarriage, premature birth, low birth weight and pelvic infection. It is also associated with increased risk of HIV and sexually transmitted infections.

Current treatment includes oral antibiotic tablets, vaginal antibiotic cream or vaginal antibiotic gel. Most women only require treatment for a short period of time, but the infection can return within three to six months in more than 50 per cent of cases.

At present, treatment guidelines do not include checking or treating bacterial vaginosis in sexual partners.

About the trial:

This is a randomised controlled research project to determine whether treating the male partners of women affected by bacterial vaginosis reduces the recurrence of the infection. It is aimed at women who have a regular male partner and are pre-menopausal.

Couples will be randomly allocated into two groups. Women will receive standard recommended antibiotics for bacterial vaginosis and their male partner will either receive antibiotic treatment or no treatment. Female treatment only is current clinical practice in Australia and globally.

The treatment group involves taking an oral antibiotic and using a topical antibiotic cream applied twice daily to the penile skin for one week while the female partner is also undergoing treatment for BV. Samples will be self-collected prior to taking the antibiotics, upon completion of treatment and at monthly intervals throughout for 3 months.

If bacterial vaginosis recurs in a woman whose partner did not receive antibiotics while they were parking in the trial, they will be eligible to receive dual treatment.

The trial will involve 342 couples from New South Wales and Victoria and will take place over three years.

Media enquiries: Family Planning NSW E: media@fpnsw.org.au M: 0402 880 653

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