What is Trichomoniasis infection and how is it treated?

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Jojo Ming (Image Verywell Health)

Trichomoniasis, commonly known as « trich, » is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by a single-celled parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis. This microscopic organism primarily infects the urogenital tract, affecting both men and women, but the symptoms and consequences of the infection can vary between genders.

Transmission and Risk Factors: Trichomoniasis is primarily transmitted through sexual activity, including vaginal, oral, and anal intercourse. However, it can also be transmitted through non-sexual means, such as sharing damp towels or wet clothing. The infection is more common in women than in men, and certain factors increase the risk of transmission, including multiple sexual partners, unprotected sex, and a weakened immune system.

Symptoms: Trichomoniasis can manifest differently in men and women. In women, symptoms may include itching or burning in the genital area, a strong and unpleasant vaginal odor, and abnormal vaginal discharge that may be frothy, greenish-yellow, or gray. Additionally, women may experience pain or discomfort during sexual intercourse and urination. Men infected with Trichomonas may exhibit symptoms such as itching or irritation inside the penis, burning during urination or ejaculation, and occasional discharge from the penis. However, a significant number of individuals infected with Trichomonas may not show any symptoms, making the infection challenging to detect and treat promptly.

Diagnosis: To diagnose trichomoniasis, healthcare providers typically perform a physical examination, inquire about symptoms and sexual history, and conduct laboratory tests. A microscopic examination of a sample from the genital area, such as a vaginal swab for women or a urethral swab for men, can reveal the presence of the parasite. Additionally, nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs) may be employed for a more sensitive and specific diagnosis.

Treatment: Trichomoniasis is usually treated with antibiotics, with the most commonly prescribed medication being metronidazole or tinidazole. These drugs work by disrupting the DNA of the parasite, ultimately leading to its death. It is crucial for both sexual partners to undergo treatment simultaneously to prevent reinfection. Abstaining from sexual activity during the treatment period is recommended to avoid spreading the infection to others. It’s important to complete the full course of antibiotics, even if symptoms improve before the medication is finished.

Prevention: Preventing trichomoniasis involves practicing safe sex. Using condoms consistently and correctly during sexual activity can significantly reduce the risk of transmission. Limiting the number of sexual partners and choosing partners who have been tested and are free of STIs can also help prevent trichomoniasis and other sexually transmitted infections.

Complications: When left untreated, trichomoniasis can lead to various complications. In women, the infection may increase the risk of acquiring other sexually transmitted infections, such as HIV, and can also contribute to adverse pregnancy outcomes, including preterm birth and low birth weight. Additionally, trichomoniasis in men has been associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer.

Impact on Reproductive Health: Trichomoniasis can have a significant impact on reproductive health. In women, the infection may cause inflammation of the reproductive organs, leading to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can result in scarring of the fallopian tubes, increasing the risk of infertility and ectopic pregnancy. Pregnant women with trichomoniasis may experience preterm birth and may transmit the infection to their newborns during childbirth.

Public Health Implications: Trichomoniasis is a global public health concern, with millions of new cases reported annually. The high prevalence of asymptomatic infections makes it challenging to control the spread of the disease. Public health initiatives often focus on raising awareness about safe sex practices, promoting regular STI testing, and providing accessible and affordable healthcare for diagnosis and treatment.