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STD Glossary

Trichomoniasis: Symptoms, Treatments, and Facts

If you have trichomoniasis, you'll either not know it—or really, really know it.

Sarah Kasbeer

Sarah Kasbeer

Theresa Chromati

Trichomoniasis (not to be confused with trichinosis, which is a roundworm parasite caused by eating undercooked meat—yummy) is an infection caused by the single-cell protozoan parasite trichomonas vaginalis. It's not great, but probably won't do too much damage either—except maybe to your self-esteem. According to the National Institute of Health, "trich" is considered the most common curable STD, affecting 120 million worldwide, including 3.7 million in the US. The CDC estimates 2.3 million of those cases are women age 14-49—women are more likely to be infected and more likely to experience symptoms (sorry, ladies).

How will I know if I have it?
You will either not know at all—or really, really know. Only about 30 percent of people who contract trichomoniasis develop symptoms, which usually occur around 5 to 28 days after its contracted. For women, the vulva, vagina, cervix, or urethra can be infected, which produces unpleasant-smelling, frothy discharge in a white, grey, or yellowish shade—as well as general itching and pain with urination or during sexual intercourse. In men, the infection usually occurs in the urethra. Although symptoms rarely occur, they can include irritation inside of the penis, discharge, and burning with urination or after ejaculation.

Carmen Jimnez / Getty Images

How is trichomoniasis treated?
You gotta know when to fold 'em. If you have unusual discharge or pain during intercourse, it's time to close up shop for a bit and see your doctor. He or she will do a pelvic exam and test vaginal fluid for women, or urine for men. Trichomoniasis is easily treatable with a megadose of metronidazole, although all partners need to be treated to avoid re-infection. About 1 in 5 people treated get it again within three months. While undergoing treatment, you should avoid intercourse until the infection is cleared, which takes about a week. And don't drink for 24 hours after taking the antibiotic—unless you also want extreme nausea and vomiting.

What's the worst case scenario?
Without treatment, trichomoniasis can last months or even years. If you are infected during pregnancy, you are at a higher risk of delivering prematurely—and could pass the infection on to the baby during birth. Because trichomoniasis may cause inflammation downtown, it also increases your risk of contracting other diseases. The infection is also associated with a two to three-fold increased risk of HIV contraction.

How do I protect myself?
Trichomoniasis can be spread by vaginal, anal, and oral sex. The best way to protect yourself is with a latex condom—although, since the parasite can infect areas not covered by a condom, you may not be fully protected. Don't assume that your partner has been tested recently, either. Trichomoniasis is not one of the STIs that is routinely screened for—only pregnant women, high-risk patients, or those diagnosed with another STI are likely to have been tested. If you're concerned about trichomoniasis, ask your healthcare provider to test you. In the whole scheme of things, it's a pretty easy fix.

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