Trichomoniasis: What Do We Know?

Trichomoniasis is an extremely prevalent sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by infection with the parasite, Trichomonas vaginalis. Most infected women (85%) are asymptomatic and may be surprised to discover their diagnosis upon routine pap smear or STI screening panels. Those who do show symptoms may experience genital itching and irritation, discomfort with urination, and unusual, ‘fishy’ smelling discharge. Various factors such as age, race, gender, and overall health make certain individuals more susceptible to infection.

Contributing to the ‘surprise’ of the diagnosis of Trichomoniasis is how long a woman may be unknowingly infected. Trichomonas may be asymptomatically present for years.  Therefore, a new diagnosis may be a very unwelcome shock as it may be assumed that this is a new infection, which may certainly not be the case.

The Complications

Trichomoniasis has serious complications if left untreated. Pregnant women infected with Trichomonas are at risk of poor birth outcomes including low birth weight, preterm delivery, pelvic inflammatory disease, and premature rupture of membranes. In addition to poor birth outcomes, Trichomonas has been associated with intellectual disability in children of pregnant mothers. Furthermore, Trichomonas is understood to be a significant cause of infertility in both women and men. It can also increase the risk of contracting other sexually transmitted diseases.

The Bright Side

Trichomoniasis can be treated; in fact, it is the most common curable STD. Treatment involves prescribed antibiotics, with recommended retesting and follow up within 3 months.

The take-home message: the majority of people who have Trichomoniasis are asymptomatic and as a result, they do not generally seek out testing. However, infected people who don’t show symptoms can still pass the infection to others. In order to avoid complications and further spreading of the infection, women should be routinely screened for Trichomonas in the same way they are for other common STDs.