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BACKGROUND: Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is associated with an elevated vaginal pH and the presence of abnormal offensive discharge. It is common, often recurrent, and the most effective treatment regimen is unknown. 'Metronidazole Versus lactic acId for Treating bacterial vAginosis' (VITA) is a UK-based randomised controlled trial assessing clinical and cost-effectiveness of topical lactic acid gel compared to oral metronidazole antibiotic for treating second and subsequent BV episodes. Few BV trials report on women's preferences for treatment in the context of their own experiences. METHOD: This qualitative study investigated the acceptability and tolerability of the two treatments. During the trial, semi-structured telephone interviews were undertaken between January-May 2018. A total of 33 women diagnosed with BV were consecutively sampled then interviewed from six sites across England. Thematic analysis was guided by the acceptability of health interventions framework. Potential causes of BV and its impact on women's lives were explored in addition to women's treatment preference and perceived treatment effectiveness. RESULTS: Although women felt antibiotics treat BV effectively, and were associated with longer time periods between episodes, they generally preferred using the lactic acid gel because of ease of use, once daily application and less side-effects. Women would recommend the lactic acid gel to others for mild cases of BV but to take antibiotics when more severe. The risk of antibiotic drug resistance was a common concern. Self-help medicating or self-decision to not treat was also evident due to prior experience of poor outcomes from treatment. Triggers of BV were attributed to personal hygiene habits-soaps used to wash the vagina and sexual practices such as unprotected sex. CONCLUSION: Acceptability and preference for topical lactic acid gel or oral metronidazole tablets in the treatment of recurrent BV was affected by personal choice relating to affective attitude, burden, ethicality, intervention coherence, opportunity costs, and self-efficacy. These differed depending on ease of use, tolerability and past experiences, but not necessarily based on perceived drug effectiveness. Knowledge of a patient preference for topical lactic acid gel therapy despite lower perceived effectiveness may be useful for clinicians when making treatment decisions.

Original publication




Journal article


Plos one

Publication Date





Administration, Oral, Administration, Topical, Adult, Anti-Bacterial Agents, Female, Gels, Humans, Lactic Acid, Medication Adherence, Metronidazole, Middle Aged, Patient Acceptance of Health Care, Patient Preference, Recurrence, Vaginosis, Bacterial, Young Adult