What is trichomoniasis?

Sexually transmitted infections; an age old problem

Trichomoniasis is a very common sexually transmitted infection which is caused by a protozoan parasite called Trichomonas Vaginalis. Whilst there are symptoms associated with the disease, as many as 70% of people that have Trichomoniasis will not be aware of it and because of this it is more freely transmitted between sexual partners.

The disease is more common in women than in men and older women are more likely to have been infected than younger women. In America, it has been found that African-American women are more affected by trichomoniasis than white or Hispanic women.

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Symptoms of trichomoniasis

As explained above, many people will be unaware that they have contracted trichomoniasis as they will not be aware of having any symptoms; but when symptoms do occur they will tend to develop within a month of infection although for some people it can take much longer.              


Symptoms in women

The disease in women affects the lower genital tract including the vagina, urethra (the tube that takes urine out of the body), vulva and cervix.

The most common symptoms found in women include the following:

  • Irritation and itching in the genital area
  • Thin or frothy discharge that has a foul odour;  the discharge can be clear, white, yellowish or greenish
  • Production of more discharge than normal which may be accompanied by a fishy smell
  • Vaginal spotting or bleeding
  • Genital redness or swelling
  • More frequent urge to urinate
  • Discomfort during sex
  • Discomfort when urinating
  • Lower abdominal pain although this symptom is rare      


Symptoms in men

In men, the most commonly infected area is the urethra (tube inside the penis used to remove urine from the body).

The most common symptoms found in men include the following:         

  • Pain or burning when urinating
  • Pain or burning during ejaculation
  • Urge to urinate more frequently
  • This, white discharge from the penis
  • Soreness, redness and swelling around the head of the penis or foreskin 

If you have any symptoms or think that you may be infected then it is time to seek medical advice. This can be found with your GP, at a sexual health clinic or at a genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic.

Diagnosis of Trichomoniasis is carried out by examining the genital area but as the symptoms can look like several other STIs, further investigation will be required. This is done by taking a swab from the vagina or penis which is then tested in the laboratory. There are a number of tests that may be carried out to diagnose trichomoniasis:

  • Cell culture
  • Antigen tests
  • Tests which check for Trichomonas DNA
  • Examination of vaginal fluid in women and urethral discharge in men under the microscope

If you test positive it is essential that any current or recent sexual partners are also tested so that they can receive treatment.


How is trichomoniasis contracted?

As mentioned earlier, trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by a parasite called Trichomonas Vaginalis. Duringvaginal penetration the parasite can be passed from vagina to penis or from penis to vagina as well as from vagina to vagina. The parasite does not infect via the hands, mouth or anus.


Treatment for trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis is unlikely to disappear without treatment but can be successfully treated with antibiotics.  The most commonly prescribed antibiotic is metronidazole and it is important that you do not drink alcohol for 24 hours after taking the medication.


Complications of trichomoniasis

There are some complications associated with trichomoniasis, one of which is that the inflammation of the genitals that can be caused by the disease can leave the sufferer more vulnerable to contracting other STI’s such as HIV or to pass the HIV virus to a partner.

Other conditions including gonorrhoea, chlamydia and bacterial vaginosis often occur alongside trichomoniasis. Untreated infections can result in pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), complications of which include:

  • Chronic abdominal or pelvic pain
  • Infertility
  • Blockage of the fallopian tubes resulting from scar tissue

If you are a pregnant woman when you contract trichomoniasis it increases the chance of having a preterm delivery. In addition, babies born to women with the disease are more likely to have a premature birth or a baby of low birth weight (less than 5.5 pounds).

One study has suggested that the chance of your child being born with an intellectual disability increases if you have trichomoniasis while pregnant.


Prevention of trichomoniasis

The surest way to prevent an STI is to abstain from vaginal, anal or oral sex.  Aside from this extreme measure, there are ways to reduce the chances of contracting an STI:

  • Be in a long term mutually monogamous relationship with a ‘clean’ partner who has been thoroughly tested.
  • Use condoms as barrier protection ensuring that each time you use one, it has been used correctly and is not likely to split, break or slide off.
  • When you meet a prospective new sexual partner, before embarking on a sexual relationship discuss the options and the risks.  You will, as a result, be able to make an informed decision about any risks you may, or may not be taking.

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