Is Thrush Contagious?

Can you catch thrush from another person?

Last reviewed: 27 Mar 2019

woman wondering if thrush is contagious
Contents of this article

Thrush is a common yeast infection caused by a fungus called Candida albicans. It can affect both men and women. Usually it doesn’t do long-term damage, but it can leave you feeling uncomfortable, and can come back again and again.

Even though it’s possible to pass thrush on during sex, it isn’t classed as a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Thrush lives in warm, moist areas which is why it is usually found in the vagina, armpit, mouth, and groin areas.

Is thrush contagious?

Even though it’s not very common, it’s possible for thrush to be spread during sex. The best way to avoid catching thrush from a sexual partner is to avoid having sex until they have finished a course of thrush treatment and the infection has cleared up.

On the other hand, oral thrush (thrush in the mouth) isn’t known to be contagious. It’s caused by the same fungus Candida albicans, and can happen in the mouth or throat. But, even though oral thrush isn’t seen as contagious, the fungus can be spread through kissing, but this doesn’t affect whether you get an infection or not. Babies can also pass oral thrush on to their mother when breastfeeding, causing nipple thrush.

How is thrush spread?

Thrush isn’t usually spread from person to person. In fact, catching thrush from someone who has the infection is rare. The Candida albicans fungus which causes the thrush infection naturally lives on the skin, and also in the human digestive system (gut). Candida albicans also lives in the mouths and/or throats of 75% of the human population, and usually doesn’t cause infections.

But, sometimes the fungus can get out of control and this can lead to infections in the mouth and throat, genitals, and other areas. 75% of women will get vaginal thrush at some point in their lives and up to 50% of them will also get a repeat thrush infection.

Thrush likes to grow in warm and moist conditions. Infection usually happen when the balance of bacteria changes, like when:

  • your skin is irritated or damaged
  • you are taking antibiotics
  • you have been through the menopause
  • you’re pregnant
  • your diabetes is poorly controlled
  • you have a weaker immune system

Can you pass on thrush during sex?

Yes, on rare occasions thrush can be passed on during sex. But, thrush infections aren’t normally passed on through sex.

But, sex can make thrush more likely. Risk factors for developing vaginal thrush are:

  • antibiotic use
  • genetics
  • changes in vaginal pH
  • changes to hormone levels
  • diabetes
  • sex: this makes thrush more likely because sex can change the baterial setup of your vagina, but it doesn’t usually mean you’re actually catching thrush from your partner

If you’ve been having sex and you think you might have a thrush infection, the symptoms listed below will help you tell if it might be thrush or not.

The symptoms of thrush in females include:

The symptoms of thrush in men are:

  • white discharge which resembles cottage cheese and may have a foul smell
  • difficulty pulling back the foreskin
  • irritation, burning, or redness around the head of the penis, and under the foreskin

Even though most people don’t get thrush through having sex with someone who has the infection, it’s a good idea that anyone with thrush avoids sex, or at least use condoms when they’re having thrush symptoms.

If you are worried about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) you can order an STI test kit from Zava. Or you can visit your GP or a sexual health clinic for advice on STIs. Remember contraceptives like the pill don’t protect you or your partner from STIs and the best way to prevent STIs is to use a condom for vaginal, oral, or anal sex.

Is thrush dangerous to people with weak immune systems?

People with weaker immune systems are more likely to infections like thrush, but they’re also more likely to get other serious internal infection. Those most at risk are individuals who:

  • are already ill
  • take corticosteroids
  • take anticancer medication, such as chemotherapy
  • HIV infection with low CD4 counts

For these people, Candida albicans can cause life-threatening health conditions other than just thrush and it’s the cause of 40% of deaths in people who receive immunosuppressive therapy.

Because thrush is not usually spread from person to person there is no reason to avoid visiting people who have a weak immune system. But, for peace of mind, you may want to wait until you’ve finished a course of treatment and the infection has cleared up before you visit them.

How long will I have thrush for?

You’ll sometimes need some antifungal medication to eliminate thrush infection. Thrush medication can come in a few forms, like:

  • tablets
  • pessaries
  • cream

Once you’ve started treatment, thrush should clear up in a week and you don’t normally need to treat your partner unless they’ve got symptoms, too.

Thrush treatment usually lasts between 7 and 14 days. Sometimes you might need to take the treatment for longer, especially if you keep getting repeat infections. For example, if you get thrush at least twice in six months, you may need to take the treatment for up to six months.

Your doctor, or the staff at your local sexual health clinic, can help you to figure if there’s a cause of your repeat thrush infections and give you advice on stopping them from coming back.

Can you pass thrush on during pregnancy?

Thrush during pregnancy is often caused because of the changes the body is going through, especially during the third trimester. If you have thrush when your baby is born, it’s possible the infection will spread to them during delivery, but this isn’t anything to worry about and it can be easily treated.

The chance of developing thrush increases during pregnancy. But, thrush isn’t usually harmful to the baby and can be treated with creams and pessaries. If you’re pregnant and you still have symptoms after 7-14 days, you should talk to your doctor or pharmacist for further advice. Thrush doesn’t affect your chances of getting pregnant or miscarrying either.

Usually, thrush is treated with antifungal tablets called fluconazole, but women who’re trying to get pregnant, are already pregnant, or are breastfeeding shouldn’t take antifungal tablets. Instead, you can use creams and pessaries (without the applicator), which contain a similar antifungal drug called clotrimazole.

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Dr Lisa Carter works part-time for Zava and part-time as a GP in Bristol. Her undergraduate training was undertaken in Cardiff and postgraduate training throughout London. Her area of interest is sexual and reproductive health.

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Last reviewed: 27 Mar 2019

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