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Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by a small organism called Trichomonas vaginalis. Women are most often affected by this disease, although men can become infected and pass the infection to their partners through sexual contact.

How Common Is Trichomoniasis?

Trichomoniasis is the most common curable STD in young, sexually active women. An estimated 7.4 million new cases occur each year in women and men.

How Do I Know If I Have Trichomoniasis?

Men often do not have symptoms of trichomoniasis and usually do not know they are infected until their partners need treatment. But when symptoms do occur, they include:

  • Irritation inside the penis
  • Mild discharge
  • Slight burning after urination or ejaculation

Many women do have signs or symptoms of infection. Symptoms in women can include:

  • Greenish-yellow, frothy vaginal discharge with a strong odor
  • Painful urination
  • Vaginal itching and irritation
  • Discomfort during intercourse
  • Lower abdominal pain (rare)

Symptoms usually appear within five to 28 days of exposure in women.

How Is Trichomoniasis Diagnosed?

To diagnose trichomoniasis, a doctor must perform a physical exam and lab test. Lab tests are performed on a sample of vaginal fluid or urethral fluid to look for the disease-causing parasite. The parasite is harder to detect in men than in women.

How Is Trichomoniasis Treated?

Usually an oral antibiotic called metronidazole (Flagyl) is given to treat trichomoniasis. Before taking this drug, it is very important to let your doctor know if there is any chance that you could be pregnant, because the drug could harm the baby.

Your partner should also be treated at the same time to prevent reinfection and further spread of the disease. In addition, persons being treated for trichomoniasis should avoid sex until they and their sex partners complete treatment and have no symptoms. It is important to take all of your antibiotics, even if you feel better.

What Happens If I Don't Get Treated for Trichomoniasis?

Trichomoniasis in pregnant women may cause premature rupture of the membranes that protect the baby, and early delivery. The genital inflammation caused by trichomoniasis might also increase a woman's risk of acquiring HIV infection if she is exposed to HIV. Trichomoniasis in a woman who is also infected with HIV can increase the chances of transmitting HIV infection to a sex partner.

How Can I Prevent Trichomoniasis Infection?

To reduce your risk of trichomoniasis infection:

  • Use condoms correctly every time you have sex.
  • Limit the number of sex partners, and do not go back and forth between partners.
  • Practice sexual abstinence, or limit sexual contact to one uninfected partner.
  • If you think you are infected, avoid sexual contact and see a doctor.

Any genital symptoms such as discharge or burning during urination or an unusual sore or rash should be a signal to stop having sex and to consult a doctor immediately. If you are told you have trichomoniasis or any other STD and receive treatment, you should notify all of your recent sex partners so that they can see a doctor and be treated.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Mikio A. Nihira, MD on August 19, 2012
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