What is trichomoniasis?
Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) which infects the genital area. It is caused by a tiny parasite called trichomonas vaginalis.
Trichomoniasis can cause a baby to be born early or underweight. Rarely, it can be passed on from mother to baby during birth. Trichomoniasis may also increase the risk of both men and women becoming infertile, and possibly the risk of getting cervical cancer in women.
Sexually transmitted infection (STI) – any infection or disease that can be passed from one person to another during sexual activity.
How do you get trichomoniasis?
Trichomoniasis is spread through unprotected vaginal sex. Women can pass it on to men or women during sex. Men do not seem to catch it from other men.
It is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs). You can get trichomoniasis more than once.
The parasites can also live for a few hours on items such as damp towels (but not toilet seats), so there may be a possibility of it spreading this way. For this reason don’t share towels, washcloths and similar items.
Signs and symptoms
People with trichomoniasis often have no symptoms. For those who do, symptoms appear 4 to 20 days after the person is infected. The symptoms are different for men and women.
Women and girls can have symptoms such as:
- red, sore or itchy vulva (genital area) and vagina, which can make walking or sitting difficult
- an increased amount of discharge from the vagina, which is thin and foamy, light grey to a yellowish-green in colour, and may have an unpleasant 'fishy' smell
- burning or pain when urinating or during sex.
These symptoms can be worse during your period.
Most men and boys do not have symptoms. Occasionally, they may notice:
- slight discharge from the urethra (the opening of the penis)
- burning or pain when urinating or during sex.
How do I know I have trichomoniasis?
Most doctors don’t normally test for trichomoniasis, so you may need to ask for the test if you think you have this infection.
For women, your doctor will take a sample of vaginal discharge with a swab (a special cotton bud). Trichomoniasis is sometimes detected with your regular Pap smear, but if you think you have it, you still need to tell your doctor
For men, in most cases your doctor will take a swab from the tip of the penis.
Treatment of trichomoniasis
Trichomoniasis is treated with antibiotics, either as a single dose or as smaller doses taken over 5 days. You should take these with food. Avoid alcohol during the treatment and for 3 days afterwards as it can affect the antibiotics and make you vomit. Avoid sex during this time.
You must tell your doctor if you are, or think you might be pregnant. Women are usually treated with a vaginal cream applied for 6 days. It is important that pregnant women get treatment early, as trichomoniasis can lead to early labour.
While you have the infection
If you have trichomoniasis, you could also have other STIs, so it is important to be tested for other infections at the same time. Research shows that trichomoniasis can significantly increase your risk of getting HIV, so it is important to get tested and treated early.
Your doctor should also talk to you about contact tracing. Contact tracing involves finding and informing the contacts of a person with an infection so they can get counselling and testing, and treatment if necessary. You can do the contact tracing yourself and/or with help of a health professional. Discuss this with your doctor.
Talking about STIs can be difficult, but any person you have sex with has a right to know if you have an STI. Discuss it when you are feeling relaxed and confident, not just before you have sex. Your partner will appreciate your honesty and that you don’t want to infect him/her. You have the right to know if they are infected, too.
How can trichomoniasis be prevented?
You can protect yourself and your partner from getting trichomoniasis by following this advice:
- Always use condoms or dams and water-based lubricant. Condoms are the best way to protect you both from trichomoniasis and other STIs. Always use condoms during vaginal and anal sex, and dams during oral sex, until you’re totally sure that both you and your partner don’t have an STI.
- Have a long-term relationship where neither of you is already infected, and neither of you has other partners.
- Limit your sex partners. The fewer people you have sex with, the less chance you have of getting an STI.
- Have regular STI checks.
Where to get help
- See your doctor.
- Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222.
- Call the Sexual Health Helpline (9227 6178 for metropolitan callers or 1800 198 205 for country callers).
- Contact your local sexual health clinic (external site).
- Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) which infects the genital area.
- Trichomoniasis can cause a baby to be born early or underweight.
- The infection can be treated with antibiotics.
This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.