Trichomoniasis, commonly referred to as "trich," is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by a parasite. The parasite, Trichomonas vaginalis, is a protozoan, which is a single-celled organism that has a rather complex internal structure. Like other sexually transmitted diseases, trichomoniasis is spread via sexual contact with an infected individual. Sexual contact allows the parasite to infect a man's penis or a woman's urethra, cervix, vagina, or vulva.
- 1 About 3.7 million Americans have trichomoniasis, but only 30% of those infected have any noticeable symptoms.
- 2 Trichomoniasis infection is more common in women than it is men, especially in older women.
- 3 Trichomoniasis can be spread through sexual contact with an infected partner even without intercourse.
- 4 Trichomoniasis is one of the easiest STDs to treat because it can be cured with just one dose of an antibiotic.
Published January 17, 2020
Written by Leigh Morgan
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 3.7 million Americans have a trichomoniasis infection, but only about 30% of those infected have any noticeable symptoms. Without any symptoms, many people do not know they have trichomoniasis, causing them to spread the infection without even realizing it. Trichomoniasis infection is more common in women than it is men, especially in older women. It is also more common in African-American women (13.3% prevalence) than it is in Mexican American women (1.8% prevalence) and white women (1.8% prevalence). The risk of contracting trichomoniasis increases with age and the number of people a woman has had sexual contact with during her lifetime.
This guide provides an overview of the testing process used to determine if a man or a woman has trichomoniasis. It includes information on why trichomoniasis testing is necessary, when it should be performed, and what type of sample is required to test for the parasite. The guide also provides an in-depth explanation of how trichomoniasis is spread, lists the symptoms of trichomoniasis, and offers an overview of the treatment options available for trichomoniasis.
Overview of Trichomoniasis Testing
The purpose of the trichomoniasis test is to determine if an individual is infected with the Trichomonas vaginalis parasite. Although this type of infection is more common in women, it can be spread to men via sexual contact with an infected partner.
According to MedlinePlus, trichomoniasis testing is indicated under the following conditions:
- When a woman has symptoms of trichomoniasis, such as vaginal irritation or pain during sexual intercourse
- When a man has symptoms of trichomoniasis, such as penile irritation or penile discharge
- After engaging in high-risk behavior, such as having sex without a condom or having contact with multiple sexual partners
For women, a sample of fluid is collected from the vaginal canal. Men are typically required to provide a urine sample and/or a sample of cells from the urethra, which is the tube that carries urine out of the bladder. No special preparation is required for the trichomoniasis test.
How a Trichomoniasis Infection Works
Trichomoniasis is spread through sexual contact with an infected partner. It’s usually spread through vaginal contact, but it can also be transmitted via oral or anal contact. What makes trichomoniasis different from some sexually transmitted infections is that it’s not necessary to have full intercourse with an infected partner. Some type of genital contact is all that’s required for the parasite to spread. Additionally, a man does not need to ejaculate to spread the infection to his partner.
The Symptoms of Trichomoniasis
Trichomoniasis presents differently in men and women. In women, the following symptoms can indicate the presence of a trichomoniasis infection:
- Fishy-smelling vaginal discharge
- Painful urination
- Painful sexual intercourse
- Vaginal itching
- Vaginal irritation
- Gray-green/yellow vaginal discharge
Men are less likely than women to develop symptoms of trichomoniasis; however, the following symptoms sometimes occur in men:
- Irritation of the penis
- Penile discharge
- Burning sensation after sex
- Burning sensation while urinating
- Itching of the penis
Testing for Trichomoniasis
Trichomoniasis testing is used to determine if an individual is infected with the Trichomonas vaginalis parasite. For women, trichomoniasis testing involves collecting a sample of fluid from the vaginal canal. During the collection process, a health care professional inserts a small swab or brush into the vagina and uses it to collect vaginal fluid.
In men, trichomoniasis testing involves giving a urine sample and/or having a sample collected from the urethra via a process known as urethral brushing. During this process, a health care professional inserts a small brush into the man’s urethra and collects a sample by rotating the brush 360 degrees. If a urine sample is required, the clean-catch collection method is used to ensure an accurate result. This method involves wiping the head of the penis with an antibacterial pad, letting a small amount of urine flow into the toilet, and then filling a specimen cup about halfway full by placing it in the urine stream. Cleansing the head of the penis removes bacteria that could contaminate the urine sample and make it difficult for the lab to determine if it contains Trichomonas vaginalis or other infectious organisms.
Once the sample has been collected, it’s sent to a laboratory for analysis. The fastest way to determine if a sample contains Trichomonas vaginalis is to look at it under the microscope. The Trichomonas vaginalis parasite is known for its “jerky” movements; therefore, observing the movement of the organism under the microscope can help diagnose trichomoniasis or rule it out as the cause of the individual’s symptoms. Not only is this the fastest way to determine if a sample contains Trichomonas vaginalis, but it is also the least expensive.
In some cases, it’s not possible to identify the organism with microscopic examination alone. If this happens, a laboratory professional may use the broth culture technique. This technique encourages microorganisms to multiply, making it easier to identify the type of infectious organism found in a sample of cells. The broth culture technique is the “gold standard” for diagnosing trichomoniasis, but it’s more expensive than simply examining a sample under a microscope. Microorganisms also need time to multiply, so a culture can take up to a week to complete. Another option is to use specialized laboratory equipment to test the sample for the presence of Trichomonas vaginalis. The AmpliVue, Affirm VPIII, and Tigris or Panther automated system can all be used to make a diagnosis of trichomoniasis but only under certain conditions. For example, the Affirm VPIII system can only be used if the patient has symptoms of trichomoniasis. It’s not recommended for use on samples from people who have no symptoms of the parasitic infection.
Some companies offer home-testing kits, but trichomoniasis test samples are usually collected by a medical professional. When using a home-testing kit, it’s important to follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer. Once the sample has been collected, it’s usually placed in a prepaid box and mailed to a laboratory for analysis. Getting the results of a trichomoniasis test may take longer with home testing, as it takes time for the lab to receive the package, process it, and send out the final report.
Treatment for Trichomoniasis
Trichomoniasis is one of the easiest STDs to treat because it can be cured with just one dose of an antibiotic. Tinidazole and metronidazole are the most common treatments for trichomoniasis infection, and they’re also safe for pregnant women. After receiving antibiotic treatment for trichomoniasis, it’s important to abstain from sexual activity until the symptoms are completely gone. Any sexual partners should also be treated for trichomoniasis. The antibiotics used to treat trichomoniasis are usually well-tolerated, but they can cause illness in anyone who consumes alcohol within 24 hours of receiving the treatment. For people allergic to tinidazole and metronidazole, it may be possible to treat trichomoniasis with other antibiotics.
How is the trichomoniasis test used?
The trichomoniasis test is used to determine if the Trichomonas vaginalis parasite is present in a sample collected from a woman’s vagina or a man’s urethra. Trichomonas vaginalis is a protozoan that causes trichomoniasis, a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
How can I order a trichomoniasis test?
Several companies have home-testing kits available. Anyone interested in at-home testing should order a kit directly from the distributor and follow the directions in the kit to ensure the sample is collected correctly. If home testing is not an option, a trichomoniasis test can be ordered by any physician, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant with a valid license. Once a sample is collected, usually in a doctor’s office or clinic, it is sent to a laboratory to be analyzed.
What does a positive result for trichomoniasis mean?
A positive result for a trichomoniasis test indicates that an individual has been infected with the Trichomonas vaginalis parasite, which is spread via sexual contact with an infected partner. A positive test result also indicates that the individual should be treated as soon as possible. Quick treatment can prevent the infection from spreading to additional sexual partners, and it can also prevent trichomoniasis from causing serious complications.
What does a negative result for trichomoniasis mean?
A negative result for a trichomoniasis test means that the Trichomonas vaginalis parasite wasn’t present in the sample that was analyzed. If the result is negative, it’s important to follow up with a doctor or other medical professional for additional testing. Even if Trichomonas vaginalis isn’t present, that doesn’t mean the individual hasn’t been infected with other STDs.
What’s important to know about trichomoniasis?
Trichomoniasis is spread via sexual contact, so it’s important to know that the infection does not always cause obvious symptoms. Therefore, it’s important to wear a condom during every sexual encounter. Some people have a higher risk of contracting trichomoniasis than others. People with certain risk factors should be tested for trichomoniasis to ensure they don’t spread the infection to their sexual partners. These risk factors include having unprotected sex (sex without a condom), a history of sexually transmitted diseases, and contact with multiple sexual partners.
Finally, it’s important to know that untreated trichomoniasis can cause serious complications. For example, trichomoniasis causes inflammation of the genitals, which makes it easier to contract HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Trichomoniasis can cause a pregnant woman to go into labor early, and some babies born to mothers with trichomoniasis infections are more likely to weigh less than 5.5 pounds at birth. In men, untreated trichomoniasis can cause prostate inflammation, inflammation of the tube that carries sperm through the testicles, and even problems with fertility.
How long does it take to get results from a trichomoniasis test?
Some labs use a trichomoniasis test that produces results in under 10 minutes; however, it may take several days for a doctor to review the lab report and contact a patient with the test result. In some cases, it’s not possible to diagnose a trichomoniasis infection right away. If the laboratory has to culture the test sample, it can be up to seven days before the results are ready.
- Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention online site to learn about the parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis. Learn the symptoms of an infection and how you can prevent its spread.
- MedlinePlus explains the trichomoniasis test from start to finish.
- The Mayo Clinic has detailed information on the diagnosis and treatment of trichomoniasis, including a discussion of the most commonly prescribed medications and their side effects.
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