Researchers have decoded the genetic makeup of the parasite that causes trichomoniasis, one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs), revealing potential clues as to why the parasite has become increasingly drug resistant and suggesting possible pathways for new treatments, diagnostics and a potential vaccine strategy. The genome sequencing project, funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is detailed in the January 12 issue of Science.
“The progress that continues to be made in deciphering the genomes of organisms, such as the Trichomonas vaginalis parasite, helps to further our collective scientific understanding of these organisms, so that we can better address public health issues,” says NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D.
“By better understanding the genetic makeup of the Trichomonas vaginalis parasite that causes trichomoniasis, we can target our efforts to developing the most effective medicines to treat the infection and potentially create a way to prevent infection altogether,” says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D.
Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted infection that affects both men and women and results in roughly 7.4 million new cases in the United States each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In women, trichomoniasis infection commonly occurs in the vagina, resulting in heavy yellow-green or gray vaginal discharge, vaginal odor, discomfort during sexual intercourse and urination, irritation and itching of the genital area and, in rare cases, lower abdominal pain. In men, trichomoniasis is most common in the urethra; however, infected men often do not have symptoms. Those that do may experience irritation inside the penis, mild discharge, or a slight burning sensation after urination or ejaculation. Symptoms in both men and women generally appear within five to 28 days of exposure to the parasite.
Both men and women with trichomoniasis have an increased susceptibility to HIV infection and may transmit HIV to their sexual partners. Pregnant women with trichomoniasis may deliver a low birthweight (less than five pounds) or premature infant. Although the prescription drugs metronidazole and tinidazole usually cure trichomoniasis, drug resistance has become an increasing concern.