Trichomoniasis, otherwise known as trich (pronounced ‘TRIK’), is the most common and curable sexually transmitted disease (STD) in young, sexually active women, with an estimated 7.4 million new cases occurring each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. While men can contract the disease, it is much less common for them and often asymptomatic.
Trichomoniasis is caused by the single-celled protozoan parasite, Trichomonas vaginalis. The vagina is the most common site of infection in women since the parasite is sexually transmitted through penis-to-vagina intercourse or vulva-to-vulva contact with an infected partner. It can also be spread to the anus, but not the oral area. Women can acquire the disease from infected men or women, but men usually contract it only from infected women.
The Signs and Symptoms of Trichomoniasis
While treatable, the symptoms of trichomoniasis are often very unpleasant for women; they include a frothy, yellow-green vaginal discharge with a strong odor. The infection also may cause discomfort during intercourse and urination, as well as intense irritation and itching of the genital area. In rare cases, lower abdominal pain can occur. Symptoms usually appear in women within five to 28 days of exposure.
Left untreated, the genital inflammation caused by trichomoniasis can increase a woman’s susceptibility to HIV infection if she is exposed to the virus because it can damage the immune system. Also, pregnant women with the disease may have babies who are born early or with low birth weight (low birth weight is less than 5.5 pounds).
Treatment of Trichomoniasis
For both men and women, a health-care provider must perform a physical examination and laboratory test to diagnose trichomoniasis. In women, a pelvic examination can reveal small red ulcerations (sores) on the vaginal wall or cervix. Remember, even if you don’t show any symptoms you can still spread trichomoniasis.
Trichomoniasis can usually be cured with prescription drugs, either metronidazole or tinidazole, given by mouth in a single dose. It is important to remember that the symptoms of trichomoniasis in infected men may disappear within a few weeks without treatment. However, an infected man — even if he has never had symptoms or his symptoms have disappeared — can continue to infect or re-infect a female partner until he has been treated. Therefore, both partners should be treated at the same time to eliminate the parasite.
As with any STD, persons being treated for trichomoniasis should avoid sex until they and their sex partners complete treatment and have no symptoms. Having trichomoniasis once does not protect a person from getting it again! Informed consent is crucial — even if it is embarrassing or daunting. It is your responsibility to let your current partner know you have been diagnosed. Also explain that he or she also needs to be treated to prevent the condition from spreading back to you, or being passed on to future partners.
Remember that condoms are a must unless you and your partner have both had a complete STD panel three to six months after your last sexual experience. Don’t make a risky or foolish choice. Ultimately, you need to protect your own sexual and reproductive health.