Written by Lauren Geall
As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.
Here’s everything you need to know about trichomonas vaginalis, from the key symptoms to the treatments available.
An “unknown” sexually transmitted infection (STI) that is more common than gonorrhoea is surging among women from racially minoritised backgrounds, new research has shown.
The study – carried out by a team from the remote sexual health testing provider Preventx – found that trichomonas vaginalis (TV) is disproportionately common among women from both racially minoritised and deprived communities.
It shows that 5.2% of women from Black, Black British, Caribbean or African backgrounds who were experiencing vaginal discharge – an established symptom of TV – tested positive for the infection, compared to 3.4% of white women. In those without any symptoms, the positivity rate among women of colour (2%) was more than twice that of white women (0.8%).
This disparity in the number of women testing positive was also present among the most deprived groups, with 5.9% of symptomatic women in the most deprived quintile testing positive for TV compared to 1.4% of women in the least deprived quintile.
While there’s no one clear reason why women from these groups are being disproportionally affected by TV, experts say a number of factors could be driving the surge.
“The reasons why some groups of people are more people affected than others are multi-layered,” Dr Vanessa Apea, a Preventx medical director and one of the doctors involved in the study, tells Stylist.
“It’s clear that socioeconomic status is a factor, and we tend to see that those from racially minoritised groups are often from a lower socioeconomic demographic.
“But there are also factors like access to testing, the stigma some people associate with visiting a sexual health centre and finding time to get tested alongside work.”
Alongside causing a number of uncomfortable symptoms, TV can also lead to an increase in HIV risk and pregnancy complications if left untreated – so it’s important that more is done to ensure additional high-quality testing is available, especially among people from the most-affected groups.
To find out more about TV and the treatment options available post-diagnosis, Stylist asked Dr Apea to talk us through the basics. Here’s what she had to say.
Who can catch TV?
While TV is more common in women, men can also contract it if they have sex with someone who has trichomoniasis – the infection caused by the parasite Trichomonas vaginalis.
What are the main symptoms of TV?
The symptoms vary between men and women. According to the NHS, in women, they include:
- abnormal vaginal discharge that may be thick, thin or frothy and yellow-green in colour
- producing more discharge than normal, which may also have an unpleasant fishy smell
- soreness, swelling and itching around the vagina – sometimes the inner thighs also become itchy
- pain or discomfort when passing urine or having sex
According to Dr Apea, the most common symptom in women is a change in vaginal discharge – but not having symptoms doesn’t mean you’re not infected.
“In about 10-50% of women, there are no symptoms,” Dr Apea explains. “So, it’s really important that people know that testing is needed to confirm whether it’s there or not.”
What issues can untreated TV cause?
Alongside causing discomfort, untreated TV can lead to other complications.
“Not only do we see chronic infections in those whose TV has been left untreated for a long time, but in pregnant women, TV can cause pre-term birth or result in lower birth weight,” Dr Apea says.
“It’s also a factor that can increase someone’s risk of developing HIV – it acts as what we call a co-factor for other STIs.”
Is TV testing available on the NHS?
While TV testing is available on the NHS, the kinds of tests used are not always the most sensitive.
“TV nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs) are available on the NHS, but they’re not always used in many sexual health services,” Dr Apea says. “Instead, we typically use a different test wherein a swab is inserted into a vagina and then looked at under a microscope – but the rate at which TV is detected using these tests is much lower than with NAATs.”
While it is possible to get NAATs privately through companies like Preventx, Dr Apea says this new data shows how important the use of NAATs could be.
What treatments are available for TV?
Once TV is diagnosed, treatment is usually relatively straightforward.
“There are antibiotics available which will typically clear the infection,” Dr Apea says. “However, we are seeing rising numbers of TV infections which are becoming harder to treat with the medications we currently have, so it’s important to get tested and treated as soon as possible if you think you may have it.
For more information about TV, you can visit the NHS website.
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