Trichomoniasis (trich) is an infectious disease caused by the parasite Trichomonas vaginalis.
It is a very common sexually transmitted disease (STD). It is caused by infection with a protozoan parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 3.7 million Americans are infected with trichomoniasis at any given time.
What causes Trichomoniasis?
Trichomoniasis is caused by a tiny, one-celled parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis. Anyone who’s sexually active can get it. It affects women more than men, and older women tend to get it more than younger ones.
The parasite passes from an infected person to an uninfected person during sex. In women, the most commonly infected part of the body is the lower genital tract (vulva, vagina, cervix, or urethra). In men, the most commonly infected body part is the inside of the penis (urethra). During sex, the parasite usually spreads from a penis to a vagina, or from a vagina to a penis. It can also spread from a vagina to another vagina. It is not common for the parasite to infect other body parts, like the hands, mouth, or anus. It is unclear why some people with the infection get symptoms while others do not. It probably depends on factors like a person’s age and overall health. Infected people without symptoms can still pass the infection on to others.
What are the risk factors for trichomoniasis?
Trichomoniasis is more common in women than in men, and the majority of women with the infection are between the ages of 14 and 49. It’s more common among older women than younger women. One study showed that women over 40 are twice as likely to be infected as previously suggested.
Your risk of infection can increase due to having:
Multiple sexual partners
History of other STIs
Previous trichomoniasis infections
Sex without a condom
Trichomoniasis affects more African-American women than white and Hispanic women. The risk for African-American women goes up with age and lifetime number of sex partners
What are the signs and symptoms of trichomoniasis?
Trichomoniasis often has no symptoms. Only 30 percent of people with trich report any symptoms at all. In one study, 85 percent of affected women did not have any symptoms.
If you do get signs or symptoms, they might appear five to 28 days after exposure and can include:
Irritation and itching in the genital area
Thin or frothy discharge with an unusually foul odor that can be clear, white, yellowish, or greenish
Discomfort during sex and when urinating
Lower abdominal pain (this is rare)
If you think you may have trichomoniasis, you and your sex partner(s) need to see a doctor or nurse as soon as possible.
The most common symptoms in men are:
Discharge from the urethra
Burn ing during urination or after ejaculation
Urge to urinate frequently
How is trichomoniasis diagnosed?
Trichomoniasis can sometimes be difficult to diagnose because symptoms are similar to those of other sexually transmitted infections.
It is not possible to diagnose trichomoniasis based on symptoms alone. For both men and women, your health care provider can examine you and get a laboratory test to diagnose trichomoniasis which may include:
Antigen tests (antibodies bind if the Trichomonas parasite is present, which causes a color change that indicates infection)
Tests that look for Trichomonas DNA
Examining samples of vaginal fluid (for women) or urethral discharge (for men) under a microscope
How is trichomoniasis treated?
Trichomoniasis is unlikely to go away without treatment. The infection may cure itself in rare cases, but you risk passing the infection on to someone else if you're not treated.
Trichomoniasis us easily cured with one of two antibiotics:
These antibiotics are usually a pill you swallow in a single dose.
If you are treated for trichomoniasis, your sex partner(s) needs to be treated too. Do not have sex until you and your sex partner(s) finish taking all of the antibiotics and have no symptoms.
Are there any possible complications of trichomoniasis?
Trichomoniasis can increase the risk of getting or spreading other sexually transmitted infections.
If you have trichomoniasis, you are at higher risk of getting HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) if you are exposed to HIV.
If you are HIV-positive, having trichomoniasis also raises your risk of passing HIV to your sex partner(s)
Other conditions such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, and bacterial vaginosis often occur with trich. Untreated infections can result in pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Complications of PID include:
Fallopian tube blockage due to scar tissue
Chronic abdominal or pelvic pain
How to prevent trichomoniasis?
The only way you can totally prevent trich is to not have vaginal, anal, or oral sex. But you can take some steps to lower your chances of getting it:
Always use latex condoms, and use them the right way. This helps, but won’t totally protect you because trich can infect areas that a condom doesn’t cover. Also, because you can get trich just through contact, make sure to put the condom on early, before it touches the vagina.
Avoid douching. Your vagina has a natural balance of bacteria to keep you healthy. When you douche, you remove some of those helpful bacteria, which can raise your chances of getting an STD.
Stick with just one sex partner who’s been tested and doesn’t have any STDs. If that doesn’t work for you, think about limiting your number of sex partners.
Talk openly with your sex partners about your sexual histories and potential risk of infection. This can help you make the best choice for yourself.
What is the outlook for someone with trichomoniasis?
With treatment, trichomoniasis is usually cured within a week.
You can contract trich again after treatment if your partner was not treated or if a new partner has the infection. Reduce your chances of having the infection again by making sure all of your sexual partners get treatment. Then, wait for the infection to clear before becoming sexually active again. It is recommended that you wait one week after taking your medication before having sex again.