Gardnerella is one of the most common bacterial vaginal infections to afflict women of child-bearing age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Like other types of vaginitis, gardnerella results in distinct symptoms---vaginal itching and inflammation, burning during urination, and an unpleasant, uncommon discharge. The CDC notes that while gardnerella may resolve on its own, treatment is advisable, as this type of bacterial infection can cause complications, particularly in pregnant women, who may experience premature deliveries and babies with low birth weights. Gardnerella is easy to diagnose and treat, and there are certain known factors that put some women more at risk for acquiring it than others. However, the medical and scientific community have yet to pinpoint exact causes of gardnerella.
The Bacterial Cause
The true cause of gardnerella is bacteria. "Gardnerella" is an informal word for the medical term for this particular vaginal infection: bacterial vaginosis (BV). In every healthy vagina, helpful bacteria such as Lactobacillus, which regulates normal vaginal pH, coexist with harmful bacteria in careful balance. But when harmful bacteria overgrow, infection occurs in the form of gardnerella. The word gardnerella (gardnerella vaginitis) is derived from one of the harmful bacterium residing in the vagina, Gardnerella vaginalis.
The CDC states that any woman can develop gardnerella, regardless of whether she is sexually active. However, sexual activity and level of sexual activity does seem to be a factor. Women who have multiple sexual partners are at a higher risk, and women with new sexual partners are more apt to develop gardnerella as well. The CDC notes that the link between sexual activity and gardnerella is not fully understood.
Gardnerella is not a sexually transmitted disease, as men cannot spread the bacteria that causes gardnerella to female partners. However, female sexual partners can pass the infection to each other through shared sex toys and vaginal secretions. Male sexual partners typically are not treated for gardnerella unless reinfection occurs. However, female partners may wish to receive treatment concomitantly, advises the National Women's Health Information Center.
Other factors increase the chances that a woman will get gardnerella. Gardnerella is also more prevalent in women who douche or use intrauterine devices (IUDs), and the CDC notes that gardnerella is common in pregnant women. The Society of Sexual Health Advisers notes that hormonal changes or antibiotic use may also play a role in gardnerella.