An STI which is virtually unknown to the public is likely to be found in Black, Asian and other minority women more frequently, according to new research.
While more common than other sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhoea, the virus Trichomonas vaginalis (TV) is largely not known about to large swathes of people.
But new research shows that it is more common among ethnic minority women and can appear with common symptoms or asymptomatically.
Without treatment, the condition can have serious consequences, increasing the likelihood of HIV and pregnancy complications, which is why it’s important we get clued up on it.
The research, presented by Preventx at the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV annual conference, found that TV is also more common among heterosexual people. They studied 8,676 women from six English local authority areas who had completed remote STI tests.
While women of colour were most likely to be affected, Black women were particularly found to be at risk.
In the study, they found that 5.2% of women from Black, Caribbean and African heritage who had vaginal discharge – a common symptom of the infection – ended up testing positive for TV.
For all other women, the risk of having and displaying signs of the condition were 3.5%, with white women facing lower chances, at 3.4%.
Even in Black women who did not show any symptoms, the chances of TV remained higher among them, with a positivity rate more than twice as high as for white women. For Black women, this figure was eight times more likely, whereas for white women it was twice.
But it might not be genetic differences that predispose more women of colour to the condition than white women – it could be to do with levels of social deprivation.
For the first time, scientists also considered the relationship with poverty and rates of TV.
They found that the highest levels of TV were found in disadvantaged areas, with 5.9% of women in the most deprived neighbourhoods (in which women of colour are more likely to reside) testing positive for TV. In affluent areas, this number is at 1.4%.
Dr John White, medical director at Preventx and consultant physician in sexual health commented on the study, saying: “Trichomoniasis is a relatively unknown STI among the general population, but it can cause significant pain and discomfort. I know from the patients in my care that it can also cause a lot of emotional distress for the person infected too.
“Women, in particular, can remain infected for years – and their distressing symptoms are often misdiagnosed or dismissed. If untreated, TV can also increase the chance of acquiring HIV in at-risk communities, as well as cause complications in pregnancy.”
Scientists hope more research and testing is done to understand and treat the condition.
Dr White added: “Our new data shows worryingly high positivity rates, with certain communities more affected than others. As TV can easily be diagnosed with remote NAAT tests, it is vital that more high-quality TV testing is carried out across the UK, helping us to understand more about the distribution of this infection.
“This will allow us to address the consequences of undiagnosed TV and reduce transmission.”
What is TV and what are the symptoms?
TV can affect both men and women. According to the NHS, symptoms of trichomoniasis usually develop within a month of infection. However, up to half of all people will not develop any symptoms (though they can still pass the infection on to others).
The symptoms of trichomoniasis are similar to those of many other STIs so it can sometimes be difficult to diagnose.
Symptoms in women
Trichomoniasis in women can cause:
- 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.
Symptoms in men
Trichomoniasis in men can cause:
- pain when peeing or during ejaculation
- needing to pee more frequently than usual
- thin, white discharge from the penis
- soreness, swelling and redness around the head of the penis or foreskin.