Trichomoniasis (or “trich”) is a very common sexually transmitted disease (STD). It is caused by infection with a protozoan parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis. Although symptoms of the disease vary, most people who have the parasite cannot really tell they are infected. Trichomoniasis is the most common curable STD. In the United States, an estimated 3.7 million people have the infection. However, only about 30% develop any symptoms of trichomoniasis. Infection is more common in women than in men. Older women are more likely than younger women to have been infected with trichomoniasis.
Trich often has no symptoms. The CDC reports that 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. When symptoms do occur, they often begin five to 28 days after a person is infected. Although for some people it can take much longer.
The most common symptoms among women are:
- vaginal discharge, which can be white, gray, yellow, or green, and usually frothy with an unpleasant smell
- vaginal spotting or bleeding
- genital burning or itching
- genital redness
- frequent urge to urinate
- pain during urination or sexual intercourse
The most common symptoms in men are:
- discharge from the urethra
- burning during urination or after ejaculation
- an urge to urinate frequently
How do you get trichomoniasis?
Trich is caused by a really tiny parasite called a trichomona. People get trich from having unprotected sexual contact with someone who has the infection. It’s spread when semen and vaginal fluids get on or inside your penis, vulva, or vagina. Trich is often passed during vaginal sex. It’s also spread by vulva-to-vulva contact, sharing sex toys, and touching your own or your partner’s genitals if you have infected fluids on your hand. Trich can easily infect the vulva, vagina, penis, and urethra, but it usually doesn’t infect other body parts (like the mouth or anus).
What causes trichomoniasis?
Trich is caused by a one-celled protozoan organism called Trichomonas vaginalis. It travels from person to person through genital contact during sex. In women, the organism causes an infection in the vagina, urethra, or both. In men, the infection only happens in the urethra. Once the infection begins, it can easily be spread through unprotected genital contact. Trich is not spread through normal physical contact such as hugging, kissing, sharing dishes, or sitting on a toilet seat. In addition, it can’t be spread through sexual contact that doesn’t involve the genitals.
What happens during a trichomoniasis test?
Your doctor will use a cotton swab to gently take samples from your penis or vagina and look at them under a microscope. Trich testing can be as simple as peeing in a cup. Sometimes the test is done by gently rubbing your genitals with a cotton swab, to take cell samples from your penis or vagina. Trichomoniasis can look like other common infections like gonorrhea, chlamydia, or bacterial vaginosis, so your doctor might test you for different things. The idea of getting tested may seem scary, but try to relax. STD testing is a regular part of being a responsible adult and taking care of your health.
How is trichomoniasis treated?
Trichomoniasis can be cured with antibiotics. Your doctor may recommend metronidazole (Flagyl) or tinidazole (Tindamax). Do not drink any alcohol for the first 24 hours after taking metronidazole or the first 72 hours after taking tinidazole. It can cause severe nausea and vomiting. Make sure your sexual partners are properly tested and take the medication, too. Not having any symptoms doesn’t mean they don’t have the infection. You will need to avoid sexual contact for a week after all partners have been treated.
Without treatment, a trich infection can be ongoing. 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.