If you are having genital discharge that is uncomfortable, itchy, or odorous, or if you are just getting tested for STIs, you probably are already thinking about the possibility of chlamydia and gonorrhea. But there is another infection called trichomoniasis that is lesser known and can also cause discomfort and other problems.
What is trichomoniasis? Trichomoniasis is the term for infection, usually vaginal or urethral, with the protozoa Trichomonas vaginalis. According to the CDC, “In the United States, an estimated 3.7 million people have the infection, but only about 30% develop any symptoms of trichomoniasis. Infection is more common in women than in men, and older women are more likely than younger women to have been infected.”
Where did I get it? It’s a type of sexually transmitted infection, although very rarely it’s been reported to be caused by swimming in a lake, jacuzzi, or sharing wet towels. It is most often spread by genital sexual contact.
What symptoms might I have?
It is possible to have no symptoms, especially if it is in the urethra. A vaginal infection is more likely to produce symptoms. If you do have symptoms, you may experience copious green or yellow frothy vaginal discharge, vaginal odor or irritation, and severe itching, burning after urination or ejaculation, itching of the urethra, urethral discharge. It is possible to transmit the infection to a partner even if you do not have symptoms.
Why should I be concerned?
Aside from it potentially being massively uncomfortable, trichomoniasis can increase a person’s risk of acquiring HIV and delivering premature or low birth weight babies.
How do I find out if I have it?
The best way is an exam by a practitioner. A sample of vaginal discharge is taken and put under a microscope so the provider can visualize the organism. Testing for urethral infection is a little bit more difficult; if there is penile discharge the provider can sample that under a microscope. Trichomonas is not routinely screened for in STI screening panels, so if you are concerned you may have it be sure to ask your provider for an examination.
How do I treat it?
Treatment is simple, with either the antibiotic Metronidazole or a newer drug, Tinidazole. You may take the medication only one day, or for 3-5 days depending on the medication and your providers orders. It is important to avoid alcohol while on this medication and finish the full course.
Trichomoniasis is curable and can be prevented by using condoms.