Trichomoniasis - How Do you Get Infected and How Common is it?

One of the most widespread curable sexually transmitted infections, Trichomoniasis is caused by a microscopic parasite known as Trichomonas vaginalis. This is a single-celled, flagellated and motile protozoan which is mostly found in the vagina among women and in the urethra among men. The ease with which the parasite is transmitted and the absence of symptoms in many cases of Trichomoniasis infections, makes it one of the most common STDs. The following are some of the ways in which you can contract a Trichomoniasis infection, more popularly known as ‘trich’.

  1. Since it falls under the category of sexually transmitted diseases, Trichomoniasis is primarily spread through unprotected vaginal sex with an infected partner. This is because the vagina is the most common site of the disease-causing Trichomonas vaginalis among women. Interestingly though both men and women can be infected by the parasite, women seem to be more vulnerable to contracting the infection as compared to men. According to an estimate the Trichomonas vaginalis protozoan was isolated in 14%-60% of male partners of infected women while the corresponding percentage was 67%-100% in case of female partners of infected men. One reason why researchers think that men are less infected by the parasite than women is that the prostatic fluid in men contains zinc and other substances which may be harmful to the parasite. Also while men typically contract the Trichomonas vaginalis from infected women partners, women can get trichomoniasis from both male and female sex partners.

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  2. You can also acquire a Trichomoniasis infection if you engage in vulva-to-vulva sexual contact with an infected partner.
     
  3. Mutual masturbation is yet another way you can be infected with the Trichomonas vaginalis parasite.
     
  4. If you share sex toys you stand a risk of acquiring STDs including Trichomoniasis as well. This is because the sex toy you are using may have been previously used by someone carrying  the parasite and is thus infected.
     
  5. At times Trichomoniasis may also be transmitted through non-sexual routes. This is because the parasite Trichomonas vaginalis can survive for up to 45 minutes outside the human body. Thus theoretically at least you stand the risk of contracting the disease by using a toilet seat, towel, swimsuits or personal products of similar nature which may have been used by an infected person. It is best to wash up before and after sexual intercourse and shower immediately after using a public swimming pool.

Since Trichomoniasis is such a common disease, any sexually active man or woman can contract it. However certain conditions increase a person’s chances of acquiring the infection. The major risk factors are:

  1. Having multiple sex partners
     
  2. Having unprotected sex like not using condoms.
     
  3. Having a partner who has multiple sex partners.
     
  4. Having other sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhea or non-gonococcal urethritis.
     
  5. Finally, women are more likely to contract Trichomoniasis than men.

Trichomoniasis is one of the most widespread STDs in the world. In fact according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the US Department of Health, Trichomoniasis is the most common curable STD in young, sexually active women. The agency estimates that around 7.4 million new cases occur each year in United States 1. In UK too, there are more than one million cases of Trichomoniasis diagnosed annually 2.

In late 2007, researchers with the CDC reported a 3.1% prevalence of Trichomonas vaginalis infection in a sample of 3,754 women aged 14-49.3 This implies that the infection is more common among women who are in sexually active age group. For instance a study of women reporting to a college clinic for routine reproductive care appointments found a trichomoniasis prevalence of 4.8% 4 . Also researchers have found a greater rate of Trichomoniasis infections in urban women as compared to those who primarily live in semi-urban or rural areas. Then again the aforementioned CDC report revealed large racial disparities among women infected with Trichomonas vaginalis. The prevalence of trichomoniasis among non-Hispanic black women was 10.3 times higher than that of non-Hispanic white or Mexican American women (13.3% vs. 1.3% and 1.8%, respectively)3 

Finally the diagnosis of Trichomoniasis is less prevalent in men as compared to women. The primary cause of this is the fact men tend to exhibit far less symptoms of the infection as compared to women. Also the detection of infection is more complicated among men than in women.

However despite being such a commonly transmitted STD, the good news is that Trichomoniasis is curable and patients usually respond well to appropriate forms of treatment. Still it is far more prudent to practice safe sex and take precautions rather than depend upon medicines to keep yourself free from Trichomoniasis.

References:

  1. http://www.cdc.gov/std/trichomonas/STDFact-Trichomoniasis.htm
     
  2. http://www.womens-health.co.uk/trich.html
     
  3. Sutton M, Sternberg M, Koumans EH, McQuillan G, Berman S, Markowitz L. The prevalence of Trichomonas vaginalis infection among reproductive-age women in the United States, 2001-2004. Clin Infect Dis. 2007 Nov 15;45(10):1319-26. Epub 2007 Oct 15.
     
  4. Thornton AC, Dale T, Fortenberry D, Logan TK. Occurrence of trichomoniasis in college women [abstract]. Abstracts of the 15th ISSTDR 2003; July 27-30; Ottawa, Canada.