Trichomonas Vaginalis: The 7 Signs and Symptoms To Watch Out For

Emma Pritchard
·4-min read
Photo credit: Nolwen Cifuentes - Getty Images
Photo credit: Nolwen Cifuentes - Getty Images

If you've downloaded a cycle tracking app, are comfortable telling your boss that your period is giving you so much bother that you need to take a couple of hours off and have zero qualms about booking in for your smear test, then you'll know that the conversation around female health has loosened up in the past few years (and about time, too).

However, there’s still embarrassment aplenty when it comes to discussing the likes of trichomonas vaginalis, gonorrhoea and chlamydia – and any STI, for that matter – even though STIs are relatively common (there were 468,342 diagnoses of STIs in England in 2019) and, actually, aren't anything to feel ashamed of.

But, stomach-churningly cringy as you may find it, being open about those unusual symptoms you might be experiencing down low is crucial in avoiding not only the discomfort of an inflamed, itchy vagina or pain during sex, but also more serious complications such as infertility and, in rare and extreme circumstances, even death.

So what is trichomonas vaginalis?

Trichomonas vaginalis is a parasitic STI that can be passed around during vaginal (not oral or anal) sex and the sharing of sex toys. The parasites, called trichomonas vaginalis (TV), creep their way into and set up shop in the vagina and urethra. Around 90% of cases occur in women.

FYI: Trichomonas vaginalis cannot be caught from anal or oral sex, or from kissing and hugging.

7 signs of trichomoniasis vaginalis

As many as 50% of those with trichomonas vaginalis won’t experience any symptoms. But, if you do, says Dr Eleanor Draeger, a specialist in Genitourinary Medicine and spokesperson for the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, they will likely include:

  1. Itching in and around the vagina

  2. Inflammation in and around the vagina

  3. Soreness in and around the vagina

  4. Pain or discomfort during sex

  5. burning sensation when you pee

  6. A change in your discharge – there may be more of it

  7. A change in your discharge – it may become frothy, yellow-green and fishy-smelling

Is trichomoniasis vaginalis a STD?

Yep. But, as Sexual Health Nurse and author of Sexplained Helen Knox, explains, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to the causes of different STIs. ‘Different STIs have different potential infectivity,’ she says.

‘The main cause of most STIs will be a bacterial infection. ‘This is the case for chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis. But others, like trichomonas vaginalis, are caused by a parasite, while scabies and pubic lice are caused by lice and mites. HIV and Hepatitis A, B and C are blood-borne viruses.’

So, quite simply, an STI is an infection that is typically passed between two people through unprotected sex – and, FYI, that doesn’t just mean penetrative sex. That’s right, all those hand and blow jobs and nondescript grindings put you at risk, too. And let’s not forget the sharing of dildos and other sex toy accessories. Basically, if you touch infected skin – or touch something that has touched infected skin – that’s you playing the sex equivalent of Russian roulette.

How do I get tested for trichomonas vaginalis?

First up, you need to find out if you actually have trichomonas vaginalis. So, if you’ve recently had unprotected sex with someone new and you’ve started showing the above symptoms (or you’re not showing symptoms but are worried you might have trichomonas vaginalis), best book in with your GP.

‘Trichomonas vaginalis can be diagnosed using a vaginal swab,’ says Dr Draeger. ‘Either immediately by looking under a microscope and seeing the trichomonads moving around, or within a few days by sending the swab to the lab for further tests.’

How is trichomonas vaginalis treated?

And if those tests do come back positive?

Treatment for trichomonas vaginalis involves taking a course of antibiotics. Follow the instructions and course and it’s at least 90% effective.

‘There is no evidence that trichomonas vaginalis can lead to infertility,’ says Dr Draeger. ‘But some evidence suggests that it can be associated with premature delivery if you contract it while you are pregnant.’

The best takeaway? When it comes to STIs, prevention is better than cure.

It’s all a matter of covering up – condoms, dental dams; they are your secret (and only) weapon when it comes to avoiding the spread.

And open up.

‘Take time to get to know someone before exchanging bodily fluids with them,’ says Knox. ‘And ensure you and your partner get tested before you even think of not using protection.’

Can trichomonas vaginalis go away on its own?

Not really. According to the NHS, this infection is 'unlikely' to be nixed without treatment. But, with the right antibiotics, it'll be treated effectively.

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