What Is Mycoplasma Genitalium? The New STI You Need To Know About

Here’s a new scientific discovery that's not so exciting. A new STI, Mycoplasma genitalium (MG), has been identified. Even worse, many people are living with it and don’t even know it. MG was first identified as a bacteria in the 1980s. But according to a new report published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, British scientists have discovered that MG is passed through unprotected sex.

Pam Sonnenberg and a team of researchers analyzed data from over 4,500 urine samples from Britain’s third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles. Participants’ ages ranged from 16 to 44 years old, all with various levels of sexual activity.

As it was discovered, MG was most commonly found in those who had sex with more than four partners over the previous year. About five percent of those who tested positive for the infection were men, while three percent were women. Furthermore, the infection was absent in over 200 participants aged 16 and 17 who claimed to have never had vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

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“This strengthens evidence that MG is an STI: There were strong associations with risky sexual behaviors, with behavioral risk factors similar to those in other known STIs, and no infections were detected in those reporting no previous sexual experience,” the authors wrote in the study.

All the more reason to be safe.

While the study is new, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has already recognized MG as an STI, including it as one of the “emerging issues” in their 2015 Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines. This new study just further proves that.

Because it's always good to be informed, here are six things you need to know about MG:

1. Symptoms

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Similar to gonorrhea, many people with the infection are asymptomatic. According to the study, in men, there were no associations between reported STI symptoms and testing positive for MG. However, they did find a “strong association with post-coital bleeding in women.”

But to get more in-depth, in MEN, MG can cause urethritis or infection of the urethra. Those symptoms include:

  • Watery discharge from the penis
  • Burning sensation during urination

In WOMEN, MG can cause cervix infections. Symptoms may include:

  • Abnormal vaginal discharge
  • Discomfort on urination
  • Bleeding between periods, most commonly after sex

Without the right treatment, the infection in the cervix may even spread to the Fallopian tubes and cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Not to scare you or anything, but if left untreated, PID could lead to an ectopic or tubal pregnancy, or even infertility. While many may go without symptoms, the most common ones are:

  • Fever
  • Low abdominal pain
  • Painful intercourse

2. Diagnosis

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Usually a urine or discharge sample will be taken and a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test in a pathology lab will be conducted. However, according to the Government of South Australia Health, PCR tests for MG are not readily available. Furthermore, since there may be no symptoms, doctors may even miss some cases. A diagnosis will be made when symptoms are present and tests for gonorrhea and chlamydia are found to be negative.

“Further research is needed to understand the clinical implications of infection and possible longer-term complication,” Dr. Pam Sonnenberg, STI expert at University College London and lead author said in the study. “This information, together with information on resistance patterns to guide antibiotic choice, will inform recommendations on how to test for and manage MG infection."

3. Incubation Period

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Although it varies between every case, it will usually take between two to 35 days before an infected individual starts to develop symptoms.

4. Infectious Period

An infected person can infect others up until the right antibiotic treatment has been completed.

5. Treatment

Antibiotic treatments are available on prescriptions from doctors. However, depending on symptoms, an individual may be referred to a specialist for other forms of treatment.

6. Prevention

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First and foremost, don’t freak out.

"I think we don't need to panic about it," Zhana Vrangalova, a sex researcher who teaches at New York University, told Mic. "As a bacterial infection, [MG] is prevented in the same ways that gonorrhea and chlamydia are: by using condoms properly and consistently."

Bottom line, practice safe sex and get tested regularly. It’s as easy as that.

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Images: Dominik Martin/Unsplah; Giphy(5)