What is trichomonas vaginalis?
Trichomonas vaginalis (TV) is a tiny parasite, which can live in the vagina as well as in the urethra (tube that carries urine from your bladder out of the body) of both women and men. The infection is easily passed from one person to another through sexual contact.
Listen to Jill Ladlow, one of our expert Sexual Health Nurses, give an overview on TV in the video below. She explains about symptoms, how people catch it, how you can get tested and what the treatment usually involves.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of TV usually develop within a month of becoming infected. These symptoms are similar to many other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and this can make it difficult to diagnose. Many of those infected with TV do not actually have any symptoms. This means that people with TV can unknowingly pass the infection on to their sexual partners.
For those who do have symptoms, these can include any, or all, of the below:
- Pain, discomfort and/or a burning sensation when urinating (peeing) or during ejaculation (cuming)
- Needing to pee more often than usual
- Discharge from the penis which may be thin and whitish
- Soreness, swelling and redness around the top of the penis or foreskin
- Change in vaginal discharge. This may be thick, thin or frothy and yellow-green in colour. You may also notice a strong unpleasant smell
- Sore, swollen and itchy vagina
- Pain or discomfort when peeing or having sex
How do you get it?
TV is usually caught through unprotected sex with someone who is infected. It can be passed through the genitals (vagina/penis) during sex, but not the throat or rectum (bottom). It can also be passed on through sharing sex toys that are not washed and/or covered each time they are used.
The infection can be spread between women, by rubbing vulvas (female genitals) together, or by transferring discharge from one vagina to another on the fingers.
You cannot catch TV from oral sex, anal sex, kissing, hugging, sharing cups, plates or cutlery, toilet seats or towels.
How do you prevent it?
You can reduce your risk of getting TV by:
- Using condoms (male or female) every time you have sex
- Covering your genitals with a latex or polyurethane square if you are a woman and rub your genitals against another woman’s genitals
- Avoiding sharing sex toys. If you do share them, wash and/or cover them with a new condom before anyone else uses them
Because you can have TV without knowing, regular STI check-ups are a good idea. This is especially important if starting a new relationship and/or you want to stop using condoms with your current partner.
Where can I get tested?
For women, it is fairly easy to test for TV. This can be done at most sexual health services, GUM clinics and some GP practices. A doctor or nurse may collect a sample of cells from the vagina during an internal examination. You may also be asked to use a swab to take a sample from inside your vagina. The swab is like a large cotton bud and is pain-free. Some sexual health services may be able to diagnose straight away by looking at the sample under a microscope and offer same day treatment.
For men, the diagnosis of TV is more difficult but you may have a sample taken if you have signs of urethritis (inflammation inside the urethra/ tube you pee through). In this case, your clinician will use a swab to collect a sample from your urethra along with a urine sample. If your female partner is diagnosed with TV, you will be offered treatment regardless of tests.
If you are concerned that you might have TV, make sure that you tell the doctors or nurses at the clinic you are attending.
What treatment is available?
TV is unlikely to go away without treatment, but it can be effectively treated with antibiotics. Make sure you tell your doctor or nurse if you are taking any medication, if you are pregnant (or think you might be), if you are breastfeeding, or if you have any allergies. It is important to complete the whole course of antibiotics and to avoid sex until this has cleared up the infection.
In sexual health services, TV can often be diagnosed in women on the spot by looking at a sample of vaginal discharge under a microscope. This allows same day treatment to be offered. If your female partner is diagnosed TV, you will be offered treatment regardless of any test results.
If you test positive for TV, people you’ve had sex with also need to get checked so they can get treated. Read more about telling your partner.
- BAASH (British Association for Sexual Health and HIV) has a comprehensive patient information leaflet on trichomonas vaginalis
- NHS Choices has lots of information about STIs including a specific page on trichomonas vaginalis
- Brook has more information and advice on STIs written for people under 25, including a page on trichomonas vaginalis