Genital thrush is not a sexually transmitted infection in the true sense, but sex is one of the triggers of thrush.
Thrush is a fungal infection caused by a fungus called Candida albicans (Candidiasis). Its transmission has always been debated among the general public and professionals. Thrush is rare in men, however, they are usually worried about acquiring infection from their infected sexual partner. It is very important to answer some frequently asked questions about thrush, e.g.,
How do the men or women get thrush?
Can thrush be transmitted from one person to the other?
Is it a sexually transmitted disease?
Before answering these questions, you need to know if you have genital thrush.
What are the symptoms of thrush?
Before going to a sexual health clinic, you must identify thrush symptoms.
Thick white cottage cheese-like discharge from the vagina
Irritation and itching or the paper cut-like fissures around the vagina
Pain during sex or urination
Redness, burning and irritation under the penile foreskin and around the head of the penis
Unpleasant odours from the genitals
A whitish discharge from the penis head or under the foreskin
Difficulty in pulling back the foreskin of the penis
What are sexually transmitted infections?
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are transferred from one person to another through sexual contact or sexual intercourse. The diagnosis and treatment of STIs are challenging and require prolonged treatment and patience. These diseases have some features which are different from other diseases.
For a disease to be sexually transmitted, it should have the following characteristics;
Its germs should be present in the uterine secretions or the semen.
It should infect the organs directly involved in the sex and sexual intercourse, e.g., the penis, vagina etc.
The common STIs are chlamydia, hepatitis, gonorrhoea, HIV/ AIDS, herpes, human papillomavirus, syphilis, genital warts, trichomoniasis etc. These diseases compromise the health and well-being of your partner and endanger your sexual life.
If you suspect any STI, we have an all-in-one STI test kit that allows you to screen six most common STIs. Click here to place the order.
Is thrush an STI?
Now comes our main question. Can you get thrush through sex? The answer is both, 'no' and 'yes'. Let's understand why it is not an STI, although it has many features in common.
The causative agents are present in the semen and vaginal secretions.
It is a fungal infection caused by various fungal species including Candida albicans. This yeast lives harmlessly on our bodies (skin, digestive tract, mouth, vagina etc.) and causes infection only when some factor (s) disturb the microbial balance. These factors include high temperature, high humidity, poorly controlled diabetes, weakened immune system etc.
Some candida species are also present in the semen and cause semen candidiasis. So, candidiasis fulfils the first requirement of an STI.
Does it cause infections of the genitals?
Yes, it does cause infection of the external genitals. It also causes infections in the vagina and the penis head, the two organs involved in sexual intercourse.
However, this infection is not just limited to the genitals and can also develop at other sites, e.g., between your fingers, groin, armpits, mouth etc. Moreover, there are some reports that it can also reach the placenta, causing placental candidiasis. However, this condition is infrequent, and only a few cases have been reported.
Can we call it a sexually transmitted infection?
Now, let's answer. Can we call thrush an STI? To your surprise, the answer is 'no'. Despite fulfilling many conditions of an STI, it is still not categorised as an STI. Why?
It is because sex is not the only risk factor for thrush. It is not a cause or the mode of transfer of infection, but you can acquire the thrush if you have sex with a person with thrush and you have exposure to the risk factors, e.g., high temperature, humidity etc. If you don't have these risk factors, you will not acquire them even after having sex with an infected person.
That's why it is sometimes confused as an STI because some people can get it after having sex with an infected person if they have other requirements for fungal growth. But, it is not an STI in the true sense.
How is thrush transmitted?
Suppose there is no sexual transmission; how is it transmitted from one person to another? It can be transferred if you have oral sex (or kissing) with a person having oral thrush or vaginal sex with a woman having vaginal thrush. However, you need to have the other conditions for the fungal growth. If such conditions are not present, you will not likely get the thrush.
When should you seek medical help?
Regardless of the root of the infection, its symptoms can be too much to handle. Although some over-the-counter treatments are available, which have a reasonable margin of safety, you need medical assistance if;
Symptoms are gaining severity.
Your immune system is compromised, e.g., using immunosuppressant drugs, undergoing cancer therapy, having blood diseases etc.
If you have a pregnancy
If you have more than 4 yeast infections in a single year.
Once the issue is resolved, you must remove the causative factors to avoid further risk. To know more about genital thrush and its prevention strategies, click here to read.
If you have thrush and want to go for treatment, we have many options and products available. Click here to view our thrush treatment products. We have detailed information about thrush treatment in another article. Click here to read it.
Thrush is a common yeast infection. Both men and women can acquire thrush infections. You can have sex with your partner even if he/she has yeast infections because the risk of spreading the infection is low. However, the doctors at sexual health clinics still don't recommend doing so unless the condition is treated. In case of transmission, the painful symptoms can cause too much nuisance. So, it is better to avoid sex unless the yeast infection is cleared.
Yeast infections are comparatively rare in men. However, they can contract the disease after sexual intercourse with an infected female. The chances are exceptionally high for uncircumcised men because the skin folds have appropriate conditions for fungal growth. The yeast infection is, however, not classified as a sexually transmitted infection as sex is not the only factor of transmission; it can however trigger the condition in another person susceptible to it.
Using some safety precautions, e.g., male condoms etc., can reduce the risk of recurrent thrush.
If precautions have not worked and you still have acquired thrush, we will tell you how you can treat it. Click here to read our article about the thrush treatment.
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