Trichomoniasis, sometimes referred to as "trich," is a common sexually
transmitted disease that affects 2 to 3 million Americans yearly. It
is caused by a single-celled protozoan parasite called Trichomonas
vaginalis. Trichomoniasis is primarily an infection of the urogenital
tract; the urethra is the most common site of infection in men, and
the vagina is the most common site of infection in women.
Trichomoniasis, like many other sexually transmitted diseases, often
occurs without any symptoms. Men almost never have symptoms. When
women have symptoms, they usually appear within four to 20 days of
exposure. The symptoms in women include a heavy, yellow-green or gray
vaginal discharge, discomfort during intercourse, vaginal odor, and
painful urination. Irritation and itching of the female genital area,
and on rare occasions, lower abdominal pain also can be present. The
symptoms in men, if present, include a thin, whitish discharge from
the penis and painful or difficult urination.
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Research has shown a link between trichomoniasis and two serious
sequelae. Data suggest that trichomoniasis is associated with
increased risk of transmission of HIV and may cause a woman to deliver
a low-birth-weight or premature infant. Additional research is needed
to fully explore these relationships.
Because men can transmit the disease to their sex partners even when
symptoms are not present, it is preferable to treat both partners to
eliminate the parasite. Metronidazole is the drug used to treat people
with trichomoniasis. It usually is administered in a single dose.
People taking this drug should not drink alcohol because mixing the
two substances occasionally can cause severe nausea and vomiting.
Use of male condoms may help prevent the spread of trichomoniasis,
although careful studies have never been done that focus on how to
prevent this infection.