26 www.smltsa.org.za | ISSN 1011 5528
Volume 27 No. 1 | June 2013
Medical Technology SA
Before the turn of the century, the World Health Organisation
(WHO) reported that amongst the set of curable sexually trans-
mitted infections (STI’s), there was an estimated 340 million
new cases annually amongst which, Trichomonas vaginalis was
recognised as the most common, with an overwhelming inci-
dence of approximately 174 million reported cases. In 2010,
it was estimated that 32 million individuals suffering from tri-
chomoniasis were localised to Sub-Saharan Africa.
Developing countries face the challenge of increasing rates
in the transmission of microorganisms causing asymptomatic
STI’s. Inﬂuential factors that have led to an increase in STI’s
amongst populations of developing countries have been identi-
ﬁed as a combination of behavioural, socio-demographic and
economic. Inadequate health facilities, a lack of education,
alcohol and drug abuse, as well as multiple sexual partners
have been recognised as signiﬁcant contributing factors to the
increasing rate of trichomoniasis. An additional cause behind
the increased rate of STI’s, speciﬁcally within South Africa, is
the common phenomenon of migration by men from rural to
urban areas for employment. Male migrant workers have been
shown to have high levels of contact with sex workers, as well
as a greater number of casual sexual partners. Over a three
year period, 50% of the male subjects attending the Steve Biko
Academic Hospital, Johannesburg, for an Assisted Reproduc-
tive Technology programme had semen samples which showed
signiﬁcant levels of positive bacterial cultures. In a study
which observed the occurrence of sexually transmitted bacteria
amongst 367 black South African men, it was shown that al-
most half of the subjects presented urine samples that displayed
infectious microorganisms. Amongst African populations, T.
vaginalis is one of the top four most common bacteria identi-
ﬁed in both male and female subjects which include; Candida
albicans, Neisseria gonorrhoea and Chlamydia trachomatis.
T. vaginalis is an extracellular ﬂagellated protozoan that can be
found in both the male and female urogenital tracts, whereby
it primarily infects the squamous epithelium. Trichomonal
cytopathogenicity has been recognised as a causative factor
behind nongonococcal urethritis and prostatitis in male sub-
jects. The organism is localised to the genitourinary system
and the pathogen has been found in practically all sites of the
genitourinary systems in both sexes infected with T. vaginalis.
Despite the fact that the clinical implications of trichomoniasis
in sexually active women are well known, the signiﬁcance of
the pathogen T. vaginalis for the male partner is still relatively
uncertain. Infection in the female is a causative factor behind
a number of conditions which include: pelvic inﬂammatory dis-
ease, cervicitis, urethritis, vaginitis as well as adverse pregnancy
outcomes and preterm delivery.[15, 16, 17] Bacterial colonisation of
the male genital tract (MGT) can result in a variety of clinical
manifestations such as; painful ejaculation, testicular sensitivity
and urethral discharge. It is furthermore regarded as a con-
tributor of male factor infertility. However, infection with T.
vaginalis complicates the diagnostic and treatment approach as
it presents asymptomatically in male subjects. A study which
isolated females with trichomoniasis and examined the sexual
partner’s urine and semen samples, showed that an overwhelm-
ing 72% of the men also tested positive for T. vaginalis despite
the fact that the majority showed no symptoms of the urethral
A link between trichomoniasis and the subsequent increased
risk for human immunodeﬁciency virus (HIV) infection has
sparked an increased focus on T. vaginalis. With focus on the
infection and HIV amongst high risk population groups in Sub-
Saharan Africa, a bidirectional relationship has been shown to
exist.[22, 23] Research into the management of urethritis amongst
Malawian men showed that treatment of trichomoniasis with
metronidazole resulted in a decrease in the viral shedding of
HIV ribonucleic acid in semen samples. Concomitant treat-
ment of sexual partners with metronidazole offers an avenue
of decreasing the transmission rate of the STI. Considering
that trichomoniasis is asymptomatic, the need for an efﬁcient
screening method in male partners is crucial in the public health
sector. The efﬁcacy of this approach was demonstrated by a
study in Tanzania, which showed that with rapid and aggressive
STI treatment intervention, a decrease in the transmission rate
of HIV was observed. With Sub-Saharan Africa’s distressing
Trichomonas vaginalis in Sub-Saharan africa: occurrence
and diagnoStic approacheS for the male partner
(BSc, HSc, MSc) | (BSc, HSc, MSc, MBA, PhD)
Division of Medical Physiology, Faculty of Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Tygerberg, South Africa
Corresponding author: Margot Flint | email: email@example.com | +(27) 72 122 2111
The article aims to focus on trichomoniasis as to highlight the prevalence of this sexually transmitted infection (STI) within Sub-
Saharan Africa, and to introduce an alternative means of diagnosing the infection. Globally, trichomoniasis is the STI with the
highest burden in resource limited countries such as those in Sub-Saharan Africa; however, it is also the most common curable
condition. With challenges faced particularly in the context of South Africa’s public health sector, the implementation of affordable
and rapid point-of-care diagnostic tests could allow for a more effective strategy in recognising asymptomatic STI’s, where labora-
tory infrastructure is lacking.
Trichomonas vaginalis; trichomoniasis; sexually transmitted infections; human immunodeﬁciency virus; South Africa.
ISSN 1011 5528 | www.smltsa.org.za 27
Volume 27 No. 1 | June 2013
Medical Technology SA
increase in HIV, the identiﬁcation and management of STI’s
has been postulated as the most effective means of slowing the
Over the past 150 years, the most common diagnostic method
employed for the identiﬁcation of aerobic and microaerophilic
bacterial pathogens present in the MGT remains semen cul-
tures.[28, 29] The classiﬁcation of semen samples as positive for
speciﬁc bacterial species is deﬁned with a culture of >1 x 103
colony forming units/millilitre. Agar plates which have been
utilised in studying bacterial species in semen include; MacCo-
nkey agar, blood agar, chocolate agar and Thayer Martin agar.
 Culture media, in particular the Diamonds’ medium deemed
the “gold standard”, has been considered as the reference
testing for T. vaginalis. However, shortcomings in the tradi-
tional culture process have been recognised, which has led to
the development of enhanced methods of detecting bacterial
pathogens in the MGT. A variety of techniques have since
been developed, for example: direct ﬂuorescent antibody assay
(DFA), enzyme-linked immunoabsorbent assay (ELISA), nucleic
acid ampliﬁcation test (NAAT) with polymerase chain reaction
(PCR), dot-immunobinding assay (DIBA) and the agglutination
test (AT). With the application of sensitive molecular assays
amongst a group of asymptomatic men seeking fertility as-
sessment, a study showed an unpredicted high occurrence of
pathogens in the semen samples that were analysed. Based
on past research reports such as the above, it is recognised that
there is a necessity for further investigations into more reliable,
inexpensive and convenient diagnostic approaches.
The increasing focus on the pathogen’s involvement in the trans-
mission of HIV and conditions such as perinatal morbidity
and preterm labour in the female subject[36, 37], led to the devel-
opment of more reliable, inexpensive and convenient diagnostic
tests which include: the InPouch® TV (BioMed Diagnostics), as
well as the immunochromatographic XenoStrip-Tv™ (Xenotope
Diagnostics). Research into the efﬁcacy and sensitivity of the
XenoStrip-Tv™ has promoted the kit as a valuable approach
to identify possible trichomoniasis in settings whereby there
is a lack of resources and a need for “rapid point-of care” for
patients.[38, 39] These commercially available diagnostic kits offer
a minimally invasive manner in which to test for T. vaginalis as
urine can replace a urethral swab as the medium. A study
which investigated the stability of T. vaginalis deoxyribonucleic
acid (DNA) for molecular testing when the urine samples were
exposed to varying time delays, showed that the DNA remained
stable over a period of 3 days when stored at 4°C, demon-
strating the relative stability of the DNA of the bacteria.
The use of PCR in comparison to cultures has been shown to
be signiﬁcantly more sensitive as a diagnostic approach. To
circumvent the time- and labour-intensive use of cultures to
diagnose a patient with a speciﬁc STI, PCR kits were devised
which utilize DNA hybridisation. The use of NAAT is an ex-
tremely sensitive and effective means of diagnosing infection
on several different clinical specimens. It allows for an ELISA-
like system to detect the ampliﬁed plasmid DNA particular to a
pathogen. This diagnostic alternative has been proven to have
a high sensitivity (92.7%) and speciﬁcity (88.6%) for detecting
T. vaginalis in urine samples from male subjects. The advanta-
geous element to the use of PCR’s to detect the presence of a
cell is the sensitivity of the test, whereby a single nucleated cell
can be detected from a medium allowing for an efﬁcient and
reliable test for possible pathogens.
Despite a decrease in the incident rate in African populations[46,
47], South Africa still remains a populace with a high incident
rate of STI’s. In resource-poor regions, the absence of labora-
tory diagnostic services furthers the predicament of the negative
impacts of STI’s. It has been noted that the absence of routine
screening of patients for STI’s is a fundamental reason. This
highlights the signiﬁcant need for a logistical and user-friendly
approach to decrease the rate of STI contamination between
partners which may also circumvent the related complica-
tions such as compromised fertility. Within the South African
context, the predominant racial group of black and coloured
citizens also represent the sector of the population that are con-
strained by ﬁnancial and other limitations which don’t allow for
easy access to health facilities.
Despite comprehensive global studies on the incidence and
effects of STI’s, South Africa remains a country with a consider-
ably low number of studies and publications, highlighting the
need to urgently address the concern. With the ﬁndings that
T. vaginalis facilitates the sexual transmission of HIV, a need
has arisen for a rapid and cost-effective detection method to
circumvent an increase in the infection rate in resource-limited
settings. As the STI is commonly asymptomatic amongst males,
there is a need for a reassessment of the identiﬁcation of the
pathogen to decrease the transmission rate between partners.
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