The STD You Don’t Know About

Young couple listening to salesman on the couchA sexually transmitted infection (STI) known as Trichomonas vaginalis is more common than experts believe, especially in women 45 and older, according to a new study, and African Americans are most likely to be infected.

Overall, 20.2% of African Americans and 5.7% of whites were infected in a recent study. Women, when they go for their yearly checkups, should ask their doctors to screen for this organism. The screening should be routine for all sexually active women, whatever their age. The cases of the disease should also be reportable to public health authorities, just like other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as gonorrhea and chlamydia.

Who Gets Trichomonas?

Studies showed that overall, 8.7% of the women tested positive for trichomonas.  Earlier studies had found a rate of less than 4%. The rates of trichomonas were higher than those for chlamydia and gonorrhea. Overall, 6.7% of the women tested positive for chlamydia and 1.7% for gonorrhea.

When the researchers looked at the age ranges and infection with trichomonas, they found that:

• 13% of women in their 50s were infected
• 11.3% of women in their 40s were infected
• 7.9% of women in their 30s were infected
• 8.3% of women in their 20s were infected

Symptoms of Trichomonas

Trichomonas vaginalis, also called trichomoniasis, is a parasite. Both men and women can be infected. In women, the vagina is most often infected. In men, the urine canal is the most common infection site.

The infection is spread sexually, either through penis-to-vagina intercourse or from vulva-to-vulva contact. Those infected are often not aware. Fifty percent [of women] may not have symptoms. That may also apply to men, but data are lacking.

Some infected men report an irritation inside the penis or slight burning with urination or during ejaculation. Infected women may report a smelly vaginal discharge. The infection can also cause itching in the genital area and burning with urination.

Antibiotics given in a single dose are the usual treatment. It is usually successful, but people can be reinfected if they have sexual contact again with an infected person.

Infection with Trichomonas vaginalis is linked with premature labor and low-birth-weight babies in pregnant women. The infection can increase susceptibility to HIV infection if a woman is exposed to that virus.

If trichomoniasis is suspected, further tests will be conducted. Diagnostic methods range from simple visual detection under a microscope to polymerase chain reaction (DNA analysis.) Each method has its advantages, but no single method is ideal.

**2015 UPDATE**
Trichomoniasis is now considered the most common curable STD. In the United States, an estimated 3.7 million people have the infection, but only about 30% develop any symptoms of trichomoniasis. Infection is more common in women than in men, and older women are more likely than younger women to have been infected.