This Common STI Can No Longer Be Cured With Just One Dose Of Medication

by Natalia Lusinski
Ashley Batz/Bustle

Certain STIs may make news headlines more than others: herpes, HPV, syphilis, and so on. However, there’s one that’s known as being the most common curable STI, yet it barely seems to be on anyone’s radar — trichomoniasis (aka trich). And now, a new study led by an infectious disease epidemiologist at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine found that a single dose of medication isn’t enough to eliminate it.

"Trichomoniasis is one of the most common STDs in America but unlike viral or bacterial infections, Trich is a parasite infection which lives in the lower genital tract and is therefore generally passed through sexual intercourse or vulva to vulva contact," Jamie Dresselhaus, content manager at STDAware, tells Bustle. "However, because this STD is parasite, its survive-ability outside of a host is fairly high if the conditions are right. In other words, the parasite can be picked up non sexually from a warm and moist or damp environment such as infected water, etc., and then quickly spread from one unknowing partner to the next."

How Trichomoniasis Is Treated

Usually — for more than 30 years now — a single dose of the antibiotics metronidazole or tinidazole is given to someone for treatment. However, in their recent research, Professor Patricia Kissinger and a team of researchers found that that’s no longer enough.

“There about 3.7 million new cases of trichomoniasis each year in the United States,” Kissinger said in the study. She said that means a lot of women have not been getting the right treatment — and for many decades. The CDC states that of those 3.7 million, only about 30 percent develop any symptoms of trichomoniasis, and it’s more prevalent in women than in men, particularly older women.

More than 600 women participated in the randomized trial in New Orleans; Jackson, Mississippi; and Birmingham, Alabama. While half of the women took a single dose of metronidazole, the other half had treatment over seven days. The women who took multiple doses were half as likely to still have the infection versus the women who just took a single dose.

“Trichomoniasis is the most common curable STI in the world, but so few people have even heard of it,” Lawrence A. Siegel, clinical sexologist and certified sexuality educator at the Modern Institutes for Sex Therapy Training and Sage Institute for Family Development, tells Bustle. “Those that have may take a very cavalier approach to it: no big deal; just take a pill.” However, he says that one of the biggest concerns is that as the effectiveness of treatment is lowered, the duration of infection and the rate of re-infection increases dramatically.

"Antibiotics are showing an increased resistance to many previously commonly and easily curable STDs," Dresselhaus says. "The implication is that due to the high rate of infection, repeat infection, and prolonged infection, the standard antibiotic solutions are becoming less and less effective. Additionally, the funding to research and find cures as well as staying ahead of drug resistant strains of various STDs is not as readily available as it once was."

The Signs Of Trichomoniasis

If you’re among the approximately 30 percent of people who get symptoms of trichomoniasis, they can vary from mild irritation to severe inflammation. While you may see symptoms as soon as five to 28 days after being infected, you may not see any for a while, if at all. “For a majority of people, trich has no symptoms — and when they do appear, they are often mischaracterized or misdiagnosed as candidiasis (a ‘yeast’ infection), gonorrhea, bacterial vaginosis, or chlamydia, which will result in improper treatment,” Siegel says.

Also, trichomoniasis symptoms can come and go, states the CDC. Women may experience discomfort when urinating; itching, burning, redness, or soreness of the genitals; and a change in their vaginal discharge, such as a thin discharge or increased discharge that can be clear, white, yellowish, or greenish with an unusual fishy smell. Men may experience burning after urination or ejaculation; discharge from the penis; and itching or irritation inside the penis. As for being diagnosed with trichomoniasis, you need to be examined by your health care provider and get a lab test done.

It’s Important To Get Trichomoniasis Treated

Not only can having trichomoniasis make sex feel unpleasant, states the CDC, but if it’s not treated, it can last months or years. Plus, it can also recur.

“Since trich is challenging to treat, I recommend getting rechecked one week after treatment to ensure it’s been treated effectively,” Dr. Sherry A. Ross, women’s health expert and author of she-ology. The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period., tells Bustle.

The parasite can also cause other serious issues. “Complications of an untreated trich infection includes inflammation of the vagina, making HIV and other STIs easier to pass onto your partner,” Dr. Ross says. “And trich in pregnancy can cause preterm labor or a low (small) birthweight baby.”

How To Prevent Trichomoniasis

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To lower your chances of getting trichomoniasis, the CDC recommends that you and your partner be tested for STIs, and use latex condoms properly. “Male and female condoms are the current ways to help reduce your risk of getting a trich infection and other common STIs, including HPV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV,” Dr. Ross says. However, the trichomoniasis parasite can infect areas outside of the condom, too. So before engaging in sex with someone, especially a new partner, it’s best to talk about your sexual health with one another.

“Prevention is the best defense against STIs,” Dr. Ross says. “STIs are on the rise, especially syphilis and chlamydia, so the need for prevention and protection is more important than ever.” She says that it’s best to get tested for STIs once a year, after unprotected sex, and in between new partners. “Many STIs do not have any symptoms, so getting tested regularly is important to avoid future gyno problems. You may have to ask your health care provider directly to have STI screening, as it may not be included in your yearly exam.”

Siegel agrees that people should to be aware of their own potential risks, get educated on what’s out there and how STIs can be prevented, and consistently do what you need to do in order to keep yourself safe. “I know nobody likes talking about STIs, but the more we frame the issues in panic and fear, the less able we will be to confront and prevent them,” he says. “If everyone just focused on protecting themselves, we could stop this — and all STIs — in their tracks.”

As for trich, Kissinger hopes this study will lead to new recommendations. “We need evidence-based interventions to improve health. We can no longer do something because it’s what we’ve always done. I hope that this study will help to change the recommendations so that women can get the proper treatment for this common curable STD.”

In the event that you do get trichomoniasis, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Luckily, it is very curable. Plus, there are several STI resources out there to help lessen any stigma you may feel. Of course, STIs can happen to anybody — and knowledge is power.