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What You Need to Know About Genital Canidiasis

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Updated April 23, 2014

What is genital candidiasis?

Candidiasis, also known as a "yeast infection" or VVC, is a common fungal infection that occurs when there is overgrowth of the fungus called Candida. Candida is always present in the body in small amounts. However, when an imbalance occurs, such as when the normal acidity of the vagina changes or when hormonal balance changes, Candida can multiply. When that happens, symptoms of candidiasis appear.

What are the symptoms of genital candidiasis?

Women with VVC usually experience genital itching or burning, with or without a "cottage cheese-like" vaginal discharge. Males with genital candidiasis may experience an itchy rash on the penis.

How common is genital candidiasis, and who can get it?

Nearly 75% of all adult women have had at least one genital "yeast infection" in their lifetime. On rare occasions, men may also experience genital candidiasis. VVC occurs more frequently and more severely in people with weakened immune systems. There are some other conditions that may put a woman at risk for genital candidiasis:

How is genital candidiasis transmitted?

Most cases of Candida infection are caused by the person's own Candida organisms. Candida yeasts usually live in the mouth, gastrointestinal tract, and vagina without causing symptoms . Symptoms develop only when Candida becomes overgrown in these sites. Rarely, Candida can be passed from person to person, such as through sexual intercourse.

How is genital candidiasis diagnosed?

The symptoms of genital candidiasis are similar to those of many other genital infections. Making a diagnosis usually requires laboratory testing of a genital swab taken from the affected area by a physician.

How is genital candidiasis treated?

Antifungal drugs which are taken orally, applied directly to the affected area, or used vaginally are the drugs of choice for vaginal yeast infections. Although these drugs usually work to cure the infection (80%-90% success rate), infections that do not respond to treatment are becoming more common, especially in HIV-infected women receiving long-term antifungal therapy. Prolonged and frequent use of these treatments can lessen their effectiveness.

What is the difference between the 3-day treatments and the 7 day treatments for genital candidiasis?

The only difference between these is the length of treatment. Three-day and 7-day treatments may both be effective.

Are over-the-counter (OTC) treatments for genital candidiasis safe to use?

Over-the-counter treatments for VVC are becoming more available. As a result more women are diagnosing themselves with VVC and using one of a family of drugs called "azoles" for therapy. However, misdiagnosis is common, and studies have shown that as many as two-thirds of all OTC drugs sold to treat VVC were used by women without the disease. Using these drugs when they are not needed may lead to a resistant infection. Resistant infections are very difficult to treat with the currently available medications for VVC.

Can Candida infections become resistant to treatment?

Overuse of these antifungal medications can increase the chance that they will eventually not work (the fungus develops resistance to medications). Therefore, it is important to be sure of the diagnosis before treating with over-the-counter or other antifungal medications.

What will happen if a person does not seek treatment for genital candidiasis?

Symptoms, which may be very uncomfortable, may persist. There is a chance that the infection may be passed between sex partners.

How can someone tell the difference between genital candidiasis and a urinary tract infection?

Because VVC and urinary tract infections share similar symptoms, such as a burning sensation when urinating, it is important to see a doctor and obtain laboratory testing to determine the cause of the symptoms and to treat effectively.  Reprinted from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

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