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Trichomoniasis

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Updated May 23, 2014

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Trichomoniasis is a parasitic STD caused by a single celled organism known as Trichomonas vaginalis. It is a curable STD, but it is still extremely common. In fact, it is the most common curable STD in young women. The CDC estimates that there are more than 7 million new cases each year.

Who Can Get Trichomoniasis?

Trichomoniasis affects both men and women. In women, it causes a vaginal infection called vaginitis. In men it infects the urethra, the tube inside the penis that carries sperm and urine. Although men can only contract trichomoniasis from women, women can get the disease both from men and from other women with whom they have sexual contact.

What Are the Symptoms of Trichomoniasis?

Most men with trichomoniasis don’t have any symptoms. When they do, their symptoms are generally mild and include:

  • Discomfort in the penis
  • Pain on urination/ejaculation
  • Discharge

Symptoms in women are usually more severe than those seen in men, and generally occur within 1-4 weeks of initial infection. They include:

  • Frothy, colored discharge
  • Strong vaginal odor
  • Pain on intercourse/urination
  • Irritation and itching of the vagina and surrounding area.

How is Trichomoniasis Diagnosed?

In order to detect trichomoniasis, doctors take a swab of the vagina or urethra and then look at it under a microscope. This process is called a wet mount and may also be used to detect yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis. Since not all women with trichomoniasis will have visible organisms on a wet mount, doctors may also culture the vaginal secretions in a special medium.

Trichomoniasis can also cause irritation of the cervix, which may be spotted by a doctor doing a gynecological exam.

How is Trichomoniasis Treated?

Trichomoniasis is generally treated with a single oral dose of metronidazole. Women may recognize this as one of the drugs that is also used to treat bacterial vaginosis.

It is important that your sexual partners be treated for trichomoniasis at the same time you are, and that you abstain from unprotected sex until your symptoms are gone, or else you will simply pass the disease back and forth.

Can Trichomoniasis be Prevented?

Condoms have been shown to reduce the risk of infection from trichomoniasis, and should be used consistently if either partner is infectious.

Women who have sex with women should consider using a barrier during vulva-to-vulva contact, and should also know that the parasite can be transmitted by both fingers and sex toys. Appropriate use of condoms and gloves can make transmission between women less likely.

Does Trichomoniasis Have Serious Side Effects?

If you have trichomoniasis you are more susceptible to infection by HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. If you are an HIV positive woman, trichomoniasis makes it more likely that you will pass HIV to your sexual partners.

Trichomoniasis can also negatively affect the outcome of a pregnancy. Pregnant women infected with the parasite are more likely to have a pre-term birth. They are also more likely to give birth to a low birth weight baby.

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