Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that affects nearly 125,000 pregnant women each year. Often referred to as “trich”, the infection is caused by a parasite called trichomoniasis vaginalis and is spread through skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity. This STI is very common among young women and can be effectively treated with antibiotics. However, if the infection is allowed to progress, trichomoniasis carries the risk of causing pregnancy complications, including pre-term delivery and low birth weight. In rare cases, the infection can be passed to the baby during birth. Fortunately, as long as the condition is addressed early, you can prevent these adverse effects and continue to have a healthy pregnancy.
How is Trichomoniasis Spread?
This infection is caused by a protozoan parasite and is commonly spread through sexual acts, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Infection does not require the transfer of bodily fluids like other STI’s, such as HIV, and a person usually contracts trichiomoniasis from skin contact with another person’s genitals. It’s rare for a person to get trichomoniasis through casual, non-sexual contact. This means that condoms are not always effective in preventing this condition. For women, the most commonly infected body part is the lower genital tract (vulva, vagina, cervix, or urethra).
What are the Symptoms of Trichomoniasis?
Most women with this condition will not show any symptoms. In fact, out of the estimated 3.7 million people in the United States infected with this STI, only 30% will present physical symptoms. It’s unclear why some people acquire symptoms and others do not. Some possible signs of trichomoniasis include:
- Itching or burning sensation in the genital area
- Soreness or redness of the genitals
- Burning sensation during urination
- An uncomfortable feeling during sexual intercourse
- Color change in vaginal discharge with a foul odor
Symptoms usually appear within 5 to 28 days of the initial infection and may change in severity over time. If left untreated, the infection can last for months or even years. Having trichomoniasis also increases your risk of contracting or transmitting other STIs, especially if you’re experiencing symptoms.
What are the Risk Factors?
There are certain risk factors that could increase your risk of getting this infection, including:
- Having an infected partner
- Having multiple sexual partners
- Having sex without condoms
- Having a previous history of STI’s
- Having a previous trichomoniasis infection
- Being under 25 years old
How Does Trichomoniasis Affect My Baby?The biggest complications that can arise from untreated trichomoniasis are pre-term delivery and low birth weight. Premature babies and babies with low birth weights are at an increased risk of infections, underdeveloped organs, brain bleeds, and other health conditions. They may also develop slower compared to full-term babies. In rare instances, there is a chance that you could pass trichimoniasis to your baby during vaginal birth. Babies born with this infection can be successfully treated with antibiotics.
How is Trichimoniasis Treated?
The standard treatment for this infection is a large single dose of antibiotics. The most common medications used are oral drugs called metronidazole (Flagyl) and tinidazole (Tindamax), both of which are safe to take during pregnancy. If you are being treated for this STI, it’s important that your partner also gets treated to avoid reinfection. Around 1 in 5 people get infected again within 3 months after being treated. It’s recommended that you wait 7-10 days to have sex again after being treated to give the medication an appropriate amount of time to get rid of the infection completely.
How Can I Prevent Trichomoniasis?
Unfortunately, the only concrete way to avoid being infected with trichomoniasis is to refrain from any kind of sex. Condoms are not a reliable way to prevent this condition since it can be spread through skin contact, but regardless, you should always use condoms during sex to help reduce the risk of trichomoniasis and other STI’s.
Doctors may recommend you stay in a long-term monogamous relationship to avoid trichomoniasis, but this is not always a viable option for some women. Still, having multiple partners does increase your risk of contracting trichomoniasis. If you have multiple partners, talk to them about the risk of STI’s and ask them to get tested.
If you’re worried about passing the infection to your baby, try to get regular STI screenings to confirm a diagnosis and start treatment as early as possible.