Wondering if a yeast infection is contagious? Learn about the transmission methods and how to prevent spreading a yeast infection.
Types of yeast infection | Who is at risk? | Are yeast infections contagious? | Symptoms | Treatment | Preventing transmission
The dreaded yeast infection—itching, irritation, and discharge can make a person very uncomfortable. Vaginal yeast infections, also called Candida vaginal infections, in women are common. Approximately 75% of women will have at least one vaginal yeast infection, and about 45% will have two or more in their lifetime. What is a vaginal yeast infection? And is it contagious? Yeast infections are not considered sexually transmitted infections because you can get a yeast infection without having sex. However, it is still possible to pass them on to your partner during intercourse.
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Types of yeast infections
Although many people think of vaginal yeast infections when hearing the term “yeast infection,” there are various types of yeast infections.
The scientific name for yeast is called Candida. Candida is a fungus that lives in many places, including the body. Candida albicans cause most vaginal fungal infections. Most of the time, the immune system keeps yeast under control so you do not even know it’s there. But in certain conditions, such as a moist environment, illness, certain medical conditions, or when you take antibiotics for a bacterial infection, Candida can grow and cause an infection.
Various types of yeast infections include:
- Oral thrush: the most common symptom is white patches in the mouth
- Candida esophagitis: a yeast infection that has spread to the esophagus, making it hard and/or painful to swallow
- Vaginal yeast infections in women: Often referred to as vaginal candidiasis or vulvovaginal candidiasis, these cause many symptoms, including itching, rash, irritation, and a cottage cheese-like discharge
- Balanitis: pain and inflammation on the head of the penis, often caused by yeast (a penile yeast infection)
- Yeast infections of the skin: these often affect creases of skin like the armpits or groin (or diaper rash in babies or toddlers) and cause itching and rashes
- Yeast infections in the bloodstream: these can be severe and life-threatening
Who is at higher risk for a yeast infection?
Although anyone can get a yeast infection, including young children, the risk of a yeast infection is higher if:
- You are pregnant
- You have diabetes and your blood sugar is not well-controlled
- You use hormonal birth control with higher estrogen
- You use douches or scented feminine products
- You recently took antibiotics or steroid medication
- You have a weakened immune system, such as from cancer treatment or HIV
Are yeast infections contagious?
Although a vaginal yeast infection is not considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI), it is still possible to pass a yeast infection to a partner.
A yeast infection can be passed from a woman to a partner during vaginal, oral, or anal sexual activity. If the partner is male, the risk of infection through sexual contact is about 15%. These men may get an itchy rash on the penis after having unprotected sex with a female who has a yeast infection. If this occurs, the partner should see a healthcare provider. If the partner is a woman, she may be at risk of getting a yeast infection. She should see a healthcare provider for symptoms such as itching, irritation, or discharge. Use a condom or dental dam to help prevent getting or passing yeast infections through oral sex, vaginal sex, or anal sex.
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In very rare cases, yeast infections of the mouth can be transmitted through kissing. However, most individuals with a normal immune system do not have symptoms of thrush after kissing someone with a yeast infection of the mouth. Those who are immunocompromised are at higher risk of getting an infection.
Although you cannot catch a yeast infection from bath water, healthcare professionals recommend avoiding hot baths and hot tubs, and not using scented bubble baths. These can increase the risk of getting a yeast infection. Instead, opt for a shower or take a warm—not hot—bath with water only, avoiding soap in the vaginal area.
Women can get a yeast infection on the nipples or in the breast, commonly called thrush, from breastfeeding. Symptoms may include sore nipples, aching breasts, shooting pain in the breast(s) during or after feedings, or nipples that are itchy, cracked, flaky, shiny, blistered, or deep pink.
How do you know if you have a yeast infection?
Vaginal yeast infection symptoms may include one or more of the following:
- Extreme itchiness in and around the vagina
- Burning, swelling, soreness, and redness of the vagina and vulva (outer part of the female genitals)
- Pain when urinating or during intercourse
- A thick, white discharge that resembles cottage cheese
Symptoms may range from mild to severe. If you have any of these symptoms, see a healthcare provider for a diagnosis. Other types of infections may have similar symptoms, such as sexually transmitted infections. Seeing a provider is the best way to know for sure if you have a yeast infection.
What is the treatment for a vaginal yeast infection?
Antifungal medication is used to treat yeast infections. There are various options, including prescription oral medications like Diflucan (fluconazole) and vaginal creams and suppositories such as Terazol (terconazole). There are also over-the-counter (OTC) vaginal creams and suppositories, such as Monistat (miconazole). The length of treatment varies by product, from one day to seven days. If you have frequent or recurrent yeast infections, your doctor may recommend taking regular doses of antifungal medicines for up to six months to help prevent yeast infections.
Although it may be tempting to purchase an OTC treatment if you think you have a yeast infection, even if you have had a yeast infection before, it is a good idea to see your healthcare provider first. Researchers of one study found that many women who self-treat a yeast infection do not actually have a yeast infection, but another type of infection, such as bacterial vaginosis (a vaginal infection caused by bacteria).
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How to prevent spreading a yeast infection
If you have a yeast infection, there are several ways to prevent spreading the infection to a partner. These stratgies include:
- Use condoms or dental dams to help prevent getting or spreading yeast infections through oral, vaginal, or anal sex.
- Avoid sharing unwashed sex toys.
- Avoid sex until your yeast infection has healed.
- Shower before and after sex.
However, the best way to avoid spreading a yeast infection is to maintain a health lifestyle. Here are some things you can do to avoid getting a vaginal yeast infection:
- Avoid douching and using scented feminine products, including bubble baths, sprays, pads, and tampons.
- Change tampons or pads regularly.
- Avoid tight underwear, hosiery, or pants, which can increase moisture in the area. Opt instead for cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothing.
- After exercising or swimming, change out of wet/sweaty clothing or bathing suits as quickly as possible.
- After using the bathroom, wipe from front to back.
- Avoid hot tubs and baths, opting for showers or lukewarm baths.
- If you have diabetes, control your blood sugar as tightly as possible.