Letters to the Editor

Bacterial Vaginosis: What's in a Name?


Am Fam Physician. 1998 Jun 1;57(11):2616.

to the editor: While I realize that there are more pressing issues in medicine than the one I am raising, I wish physicians could resolve to correct the anomalous terminology we use when discussing “a polymicrobial superficial vaginal infection involving a loss of the normal lactobacilli and an overgrowth of anaerobes.”1

The suffix -osis, most properly applied to Greek stems only, shouldn't be used with the Latin stem vagin- to begin with. If that were the only problem, I probably wouldn't lose any sleep over it. The deeper problem lies in the meaning of the suffix -osis, which is a “production or increase (of the stem) . . . an invasion and increase within the organism (of the stem).” Thus diverticulosis is excessive generation of diverticuli, and listeriosis is invasion by and multiplication of Listeria. However, I almost cannot stand the thought of bacteria sporting an excess number of vaginas, or worse yet, bacteria being invaded by proliferating vaginas, either of which could be suggested by the term, “bacterial vaginosis,” and neither of which characterizes the entity itself.

Now some will protest that this poor clinical entity has already suffered too many name changes as it is, from “nonspecific vaginitis” to “Gardnerella vaginitis” to “bacterial vaginosis,” and should be allowed to rest in peace. But I suggest that the entity could, in the interest of consistent nomenclature, and in the interest of shutting down the fantastic images conjured by the present terminology, tolerate one more change, to “vaginal bacteriosis,” which means “overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina,” and accurately describes the entity. Or, if we must retain the abbreviation “BV,” then we could change the term to “bacterial vaginopathy.”


1. Majeroni BA. Bacterial vaginosis: an update. Am Fam Physician. 1998;57:1285–9.

2. Stedman TL. Stedman's Medical Dictionary. 25th ed. New York: Macmillan, 1990:105.

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This series is coordinated by Kenny Lin, MD, MPH, Associate Deputy Editor for AFP Online.



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