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Trichomoniasis (Trich) in Teens

What is trichomoniasis (trich) in teens?

Trichomoniasis is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI). It’s also known as trich. It can cause vaginal redness and swelling (inflammation) in teen girls. In teen boys it can cause painful urination. Some experts say that millions of people in the U.S. have trich. But only about 30 out of 100 of them have any symptoms. Without treatment, the infection can linger for years.

This STI is not a life-threatening illness. It is often easy to cure. But it's important to get it treated right away. That’s because trich can make it easier for a teen girl or a woman to get HIV during sex. In pregnant women, the infection is linked to preterm birth and babies that are smaller than normal.

What causes trich in a teen?

Trich is caused by a parasite (Trichomonas vaginalis). Trich is passed from one person to another through unprotected sexual contact. Boys and girls can both get this infection. Girls are most likely to have an infection in their vagina or vulva. Boys are most often infected in their urethra. This is the tube inside the penis that carries semen as well as urine.

Which teens are at risk for trich?

A teen is at risk for trich if he or she has unprotected sex with someone who has trich. Experts estimate that at least 1 in 4 new infections in both adults and children occur in teen girls.

What are the symptoms of trich infection in a teen?

Most people who have a trich infection don't have symptoms. If symptoms occur, they may start from a few days to months after infection with the parasite.

Symptoms in teen girls can include:

  • Itching or irritation in the vagina 

  • A bad-smelling discharge from the vagina that is frothy and yellow or green

  • Burning feeling in the vagina

  • Pain or discomfort with urination and during sex

Symptoms in teen boys can include:

  • Irritation and itching in the penis

  • A discharge of pus from the penis 

  • Pain or discomfort with urination and during sex

The symptoms of trich can seem like other health conditions. Make sure your teen sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is trich diagnosed in a teen?

The healthcare provider will ask about your teen’s symptoms and health history. He or she may also ask about your teen’s sexual history. He or she will give your teen a physical exam. The physical exam may include an exam of the genitals. A teen girl may have a pelvic exam to look for small red sores in the vagina. The provider may need to take swabs of the urethra or vagina to get samples of fluid to check for infection. Teens often find these exams uncomfortable. A teen girl may be allowed to help take her own sample.

How is trich treated in a teen?

Without treatment, the infection can linger for years and can infect other areas of the genital tract. Treatment of trich is done with antibiotics. Your teen's healthcare provider may prescribe the antibiotic medicine metronidazole or tinidazole to treat the infection. Make sure:

  • Your teen takes all the medicine as prescribed, even if he or she feels better.

  • Your teen doesn’t drink any alcohol while on metronidazole. This can make him or her very sick.

  • Your teen girl tells her healthcare provider if she is pregnant or thinks she may be pregnant. Some medicines should not be taken during the first trimester of pregnancy.                                         

About 1 in 5 people get the infection again after being treated, either from a sexual partner or from the first antibiotic course not working fully. Your teen's partner should be treated at the same time. Neither of them should have sex until the treatment is finished and symptoms have gone away. 

Talk with your teen’s healthcare providers about the risks, benefits, and possible side effects of all medicines.

How can I help prevent trich in my teen?

The safe sex habits that your teen needs to prevent trich are the same ones that can prevent any STI. Have a discussion with your teen about prevention. Teens can prevent a trich infection with:   

  • Abstinence. The most certain way to prevent trich and other STIs is to not have sex.

  • Asking about a person’s sexual history. This should be done before having sex. Advise your teen that if he or she is planning to have sex with someone, the teen should ask about the partner's sexual history. It's best if they both agree to get tested for STIs before having sex.

  • Protected sex. Talk with your teen about how to have safe and protected sex. He or she should always use a new latex condom for sex. But it’s important to note that condoms may not always protect against trich infection. IUDs, birth control shots, a diaphragm, spermicides, douching, and birth control pills don't prevent infection.

When should I call my teen’s healthcare provider?

Call the healthcare provider if your child:

  • Has symptoms that don’t get better, or get worse

  • Has new symptoms

  • May be a victim of sexual abuse

Key points about trichomoniasis in teens

  • Trichomoniasis (trich) is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI). It can cause vaginal redness and swelling in teen girls. In teen boys it can cause painful urination.

  • Most people who have a trich infection don't have symptoms. But symptoms can include irritation, fluid discharge, pain with urination, and pain during sex.

  • Treatment of trich is done with medicine. Your teen's healthcare provider may prescribe an antibiotic to treat the infection.

  • About 1 in 5 people get the infection again after being treated. Without treatment, the infection can linger for years.

  • Your teen's partner should be treated at the same time. Neither of them should have sex until the treatment is finished and symptoms have gone away. 

  • The safe sex habits that your child needs to prevent trich are the same ones that can prevent any STI. Talk with your teen about prevention and safe sex.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.

  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.

  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child. Also know what the side effects are.

  • Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.

  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.

  • Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.

  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.

  • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.

Online Medical Reviewer: Barry Zingman MD
Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Pat F Bass MD MPH
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2019
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