A common and highly curable sexually transmitted infection (STI) may not be commonly known.
While nearly 3.7 million people in the United States are infected with trichomoniasis (trich), only 30% develop symptoms.
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What Is Trichomoniasis?
Trich is an STI caused by a tiny parasite. It is spread through sexual contact.
Infections and symptoms are most common in women. While men can be infected, they are less likely to have symptoms and more likely to have a false negative test.
“The infection can last several days or weeks, but not everyone experiences symptoms and if they do, they can come and go,” says Candace Jones, CNM, DNP, UPMC Obstetrics and Gynecology Specialists-North Harrisburg. “It’s important to not ignore any physical changes like pelvic pain or vaginal or penile discharge.”
Trich symptoms can range from mild irritation to severe inflammation. They can begin anywhere from five to 28 days after being infected. It’s possible to spread the infection without having any symptoms.
It’s important to talk to your medical provider if you or your partner experience any symptoms.
Common symptoms in women include:
- Foul-smelling white, yellow, or gray vaginal discharge.
- Vaginal spotting or bleeding.
- Genital burning or itching.
- Genital redness or swelling.
- Frequent urge to urinate.
- Pain during urination or sexual intercourse.
Common symptoms in men include:
- Urge to urinate frequently.
- Burning during urination or after ejaculation.
- Discharge from the urethra.
Risk Factors for Trichomoniasis
Engaging in unprotected sex, having multiple partners, or having a previous STI can increase your risk of trich.
“Using latex condoms correctly during every sexual encounter decreases your risk of contracting STIs,” Dr. Jones says. “However, people can get some STIs during oral and anal sex. Even one act of unprotected sex can cause an infection.”
Talk about the potential risk of STIs and previous sexual history with a new partner before you have sex.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Trichomoniasis
Lab tests can confirm a trich diagnosis. Women’s vaginal fluid can be tested, as can urine for both men and women. In some offices, a sample can be examined under a microscope to identify the parasite.
Women can have a trich infection in the urethra (a tube that empties urine from the bladder), vagina, or both. Men experience the infection only in the urethra.
The treatment process includes antibiotics and abstaining from unprotected intercourse until both partners receive adequate treatment. Sex should be avoided for one week until the STI has cleared. The treatment also is safe for pregnant women and their babies.
“Complications can occur for infected pregnant women, too,” Dr. Jones says. “Having trich during pregnancy increases the risk for pre-term delivery.”
Alcohol should also be avoided during treatment. It can interfere with the effectiveness of the prescribed treatment medication and make you ill.
Patients should see their doctor three weeks after treatment has ended to ensure the infection is gone, or earlier if symptoms recur.
About 1 in 5 people get infected again within three months after receiving treatment.
If left untreated, men and women are at a higher risk of contracting additional STIs and getting HIV. Both men and women can suffer pelvic pain and infertility. Women can develop scar tissue in their fallopian tubes, which contributes to infertility.
If you suspect you have been exposed to trich or any STI, talk to your doctor about your concerns and any symptoms.
About Infectious Diseases
If you have a disease caused by bacteria, fungi, parasite, or virus, the UPMC Center for Care of Infectious Diseases can help. Our team of experts is specially trained in the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases, including of HIV-AIDs, postsurgical and transplant infections, illnesses caused by international travel, and more. We research infectious diseases and participate in clinical trials to learn more and develop better treatment and prevention methods. Visit our website to find an expert near you.