What Is Trichomoniasis?
Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused
by the protozoan parasite Trichomonas vaginalis. This common STI is
also referred to as “trich.”
Trichomoniasis is curable. However, you can become infected again
if you have sex with an infected person. Most men and women don’t get treated
for it right away because they don’t realize they’re infected with the
parasite. In the meantime, they can spread the infection to others.
According to the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), trichomoniasis affects nearly 3.7
million people in the United States. Only around 30 percent of those individuals
are symptomatic. If you have no symptoms, you can still spread the infection.
Trichomoniasis is spread through sexual contact. It can be
transmitted through contact between the penis and the vagina or contact between
the vagina and the vagina. The parasite doesn’t generally infect the mouth or
What Are the Symptoms of
Most people with trichomoniasis don’t have any symptoms. The CDC
estimates that only about 30 percent of people experience symptoms.
When women have symptoms, they may include:
- itching or redness of the vaginal area
- uncomfortable urination
- the urge to urinate frequently
- frothy, vaginal discharge that may be yellow or green
- foul vaginal odor
- swelling in the groin
Men rarely have symptoms, but when they do, symptoms may include:
- itching inside the penis
- burning after urination or ejaculation
- the urge to urinate frequently
- penile discharge
Symptoms might appear five to 28 days after being infected. In
some cases, they can develop much later, according to the CDC. It’s
not unusual for symptoms to be sporadic.
Am I at Risk for Trichomoniasis?
Engaging in sexual activity puts you at risk for catching
trichomoniasis from your partner. Other risk factors include:
- having multiple sexual partners
- a history of other STIs
- prior infection with trichomoniasis
- sex without a condom
Diagnosing trichomoniasis is easier in women than in men.
Your doctor or gynecologist will ask you about your symptoms and
about any recent sexual activity. The infection can be diagnosed during a
pelvic exam. It may cause red patches on the vaginal wall or cervix.
A swab may also be used to collect a sample of vaginal fluids.
This can be examined under a microscope to look for the parasite.
It’s very difficult to diagnose this STI in men. Therefore, men
are usually treated if their sexual partner is diagnosed with this infection.
If there’s discharge or if you have persistent itching or burning in the
urethra, your healthcare provider will swab the urethra to get a sample of any
discharge. The discharge can be examined under a microscope to look for the parasite.
How Is Trichomoniasis Treated?
You will need to take a prescription medication, usually
metronidazole, to get rid of the infection. These pills are taken orally.
Trichomoniasis may also be treated with tinidazole.
You should not drink alcohol while taking metronidazole or
tinidazole or for up to 72 hours afterward. Alcohol mixed with these
medications can cause nausea and vomiting.
Sexual activity of any type should also be avoided until you’re
done with treatment. Treatment doesn’t protect you from future infections. It’s
possible to become infected again. It’s important for both sexual partners to
be treated before resuming intercourse.
Men may be treated for this infection if they have symptoms that
persist and the treatment for other STIs has been ineffective.
If you’re pregnant and have trichomoniasis, your baby may be born
prematurely. Babies born to women who are infected tend to have a low birth
weight. It’s safe for you to treat this infection while you’re pregnant. If you
have any concerns, talk with your doctor about your treatment.
Without treatment, trichomoniasis can cause changes in your
cervical tissue. These changes may show up on a Pap smear. If your doctor finds
abnormal cells, you’ll be treated and then have a repeat Pap smear.
Trichomoniasis can also make it easier for women to get infected
with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. According to the World Health
Organization (WHO), some STIs increase the risk of getting HIV three-fold
How to Lower Your Risk of Infection
Abstaining from sexual intercourse is the only sure way to
prevent trichomoniasis or to avoid spreading it to others. Latex condoms used
correctly can reduce the risk of spreading this infection. However, condoms are
not foolproof. The parasite can still be transmitted from surrounding areas.
It’s important to talk to your partner about your sexual history
and to get tested before starting a sexual relationship.
If you already have trichomoniasis, don’t have sex until you and
your partner both complete treatment. It’s also important to:
- inform your sex partners about the infection
- make sure you and your sex partners are treated
and then tested again before continuing sexual activity
- unless you’re in a stable, monogamous
relationship and both partners have been tested, use latex condoms every time
you have intercourse
Call your healthcare provider if you begin to experience any
symptoms. If you’re having unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners, be
sure to get tested regularly for STIs, even if you don’t have any symptoms.