What it is

Trichomoniasis is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI). It's caused by a parasite called trichomonas.

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The symptoms

About 70% of people infected with trichomoniasis do not have any signs or symptoms. When it does cause symptoms, they can range from mild irritation to severe inflammation. Some people with symptoms get them within 5 to 28 days after being infected, but others do not develop symptoms until much later. Common signs and symptoms may include:

  • Frothy, grey, yellow, or green foul-smelling vaginal discharge
  • Intense vaginal itching
  • Redness and pain in vaginal area
  • Pain during sex or passing urine
  • Itching of the skin of the labia (the lips of the vagina), anus and thigh
  • Itching of the penis
  • Discharge from the penis
  • Burning when passing urine
  • Irritation around the tip of the penis
  • Itching of the skin of the scrotum, anus and thigh

What it can do to you

Trichomoniasis can increase your risk of getting or spreading other STIs. For example, trichomoniasis can cause genital inflammation that makes it easier to get infected with the HIV virus, or to pass the HIV virus on to a sex partner. Having trichomoniasis can make it feel unpleasant to have sex. Without treatment, the infection can last for months or even years. Symptoms can come and go.

This STI can also lead to:

For women: infertility, vaginal discharge, pregnancy complications, pelvic inflammatory disease

For men: infertility, discomfort after urination or ejaculation, chronic prostatitis

How you prevent it

Always practice safer sex and use condoms. This will lower the risk of getting trichomoniasis or other STIs.

If you find out that you have trichomoniasis, your partner(s) need to be told that they could have an infection - even if there aren't any symptoms.

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If you have concerns about telling your partner(s), contact a public health nurse. The public health nurse can suggest ways to handle the situation. Your privacy will be respected.

You can get trichomoniasis from having unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex.

If you think you have it

If you suspect you have trichomonas, visit your health care provider or sexual health clinic to get tested immediately.

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Get tested

For women, a sample of fluid from the vagina may be needed for testing. While a Pap test may also show the infection, STI tests are not routinely performed during regular Pap exams. Be sure to ask your health care provider to test you for STIs - asking is the only way to know whether you are receiving the right tests.

For men, your health care provider or public health nurse may ask you for a sample of discharge from the tip of the penis.

Get treated

Trichomoniasis is usually treated with an antibiotic which can be taken orally. People who have been treated for trichomoniasis can get it again. About 1 in 5 people get infected again within 3 months after treatment. To avoid getting reinfected, make sure that all of your sex partners get treated too, and wait to have sex again until all of your symptoms go away (about a week).

Pills for treatment of trichomoniasis should not be taken during early pregnancy or while breastfeeding. If you're pregnant or think you are, tell your health care provider or sexual health clinic so they can treat you effectively.

Trichomoniasis testing is relatively easy. For a test, support or counselling, visit your local sexual health clinic.

Follow up

Most of the time, you're cured if you take all your medication as directed. If the symptoms continue or come back, see your health care provider or sexual health clinic.

Remember:

  • If you have an untreated STI like trichomoniasis, it's easier to get HIV from a person who has it.
  • It's possible to have more than one infection at a time, so it's important to be tested for other STIs.

If you decide to talk to your partner(s) yourself, learn how to talk comfortably about it.