Trichomonas Vaginalis

How to say: trike-oh-moan-as vah-gin-ar-lis

What is it?

Trichomonas vaginalis (TV) is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Trichomonas affects both men and women and is easily passed through sexual contact.

In men the infection can found in the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the tip of the penis) and in women the infection can be found in the vagina and urethra. Anyone who is sexually active can get it and pass it on. You don't need to have lots of sexual partners.

As there are often no symptoms, people can live with trichomonas without knowing it for a long time.  But once the infection has been detected, it can be easily treated.

How do you get it

You can get trichomonas through:

  • having unprotected vaginal sex,
  • sharing vibrators or other sex toys, that have not been washed or covered with a new condom
  • It is possible the infection can be spread between women by rubbing vulvas (female genitals) together or by transferring discharge from one vagina to another on the fingers.
  • Trichomonas can be passed from a mother to her baby during childbirth.

You cannot get trichomonas from:

  • oral or anal sex
  • kissing or hugging
  • sharing cups, plates and cutlery

Trichomonas cannot survive outside the human body for long, so you cannot catch it from a toilet seat or towels.

Even if you have had trichomonas before, and were treated successfully, you are still at risk of catching it again. Using a condom will greatly reduce your risk.

Signs and Symptoms

As many people who have trichomonas do not have any symptoms, or have only mild symptoms, it is possible to have the infection and still feel well.  If there are any symptoms, they usually appear within 1 month of coming into contact with an infected partner.

Women

Approximately 50% of women with trichomonas have no symptoms however some women may experience:

  • Soreness, inflammation and itching in and around the vagina
  • Discomfort when having sex
  • A change in vaginal discharge
  • A fishy unpleasant smell
  • Pain when peeing

Men

Approximately 50% of men with trichomonas have no symptoms, but those who do may experience some or all of the following:

  • A discharge from the penis
  • Difficulty, pain or a burning sensation when peeing
  • Inflammation of the foreskin (this is uncommon)

Symptoms are caused by inflammation (swelling) of the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the tip of the penis (urethra).

Testing for Trichomonas

As most people with trichomonas won't show any signs of being infected, the best way to find out is to have a test.  You may want to consider a test if:

  • you have, or think you have symptoms.
  • you have recently had unprotected sex (without a condom) with a new partner.
  • you or your partner have had unprotected sex with someone else.
  • you have had sex with someone who you know has trichomonas or another STI.
  • you yourself have another STI.
  • you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy.

Remember that testing and treatment of infections is free of charge, and all advice and information is completely confidential.

The test you will have will depend on whether or not you have symptoms. The tests aren't usually painful, although they may be a little uncomfortable. Click on the link below for more information.

What is involved in an STI test for women

What is involved in an STI test for men

Your doctor or nurse will tell you how you will receive the results before you leave.

Routine blood tests do not detect infections such as trichomonas. If you are not sure whether you have been tested for trichomonas, just ask.

If you have trichomonas you may wish to be tested for other sexually transmitted infections as you can have more than one sexually transmitted infection at the same time. Having an infection such as trichomonas can mean that you are more at risk of becoming infected with HIV or passing it on if you are HIV positive.

Treatment

The good news is that trichomonas is usually easy to treat. The treatment involves taking a course of antibiotic tablets either as a single dose or a longer course (up to a week).

  • You will be advised not to drink alcohol during the treatment and for 48 hours afterwards. This is because antibiotics used to treat trichomonas react with alcohol and this can make you feel very unwell.
  • If there is a high chance you have the infection, treatment may be started before the results of the test are back. You will always be given treatment for trichomonas if your partner is found to have trichomonas.
  • When you are taking the treatment for trichomonas, it is a good idea to tell the doctor if you are taking the contraceptive pill or if you are pregnant.
  • There is no evidence that complementary therapies can cure trichomonas.

If you feel upset or angry about having trichomonas and find it difficult to talk to your partner or friends, don't be afraid to discuss how you feel with the staff at the sexual health service.

If you test positive for any STI you should tell your partner(s).  It is very important that your current sexual partner(s) are also tested and treated. If they are not, they may develop serious health problems in the future. The staff at the sexual health service will discuss with you which of your partners may need to be tested.

If you don't want to tell your partner(s), the clinic can give you a 'contact slip' to send or give to your partner(s) or, with your permission, they can do this for you. This slip explains that they may have been exposed to a STI and suggests that they go for a check-up. It may or may not say what the infection is. It will not have your name on it. This is called partner notification.

Where can I get tested?

You could see your own GP, or you can visit any of the following. Remember services vary so always check before you attend.

  • community sexual health clinics
  • sexual health clinics in your local hospital
  • young people's clinics

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More information

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