Mycoplasma genitalium (Mgen or MG) is a relatively new sexually transmitted disease but it’s already a bigger problem than you might think. The disease could already be present in one in every 100 adults and it may very well become a superbug due to its antimicrobial resistance.
Even if you haven’t heard of it, the STI is surprisingly common. Mgen infects roughly one to two percent of people in the United States and in Australia, as well as one percent of people in the United Kingdom.
As Lifehacker AU notes, countless people know of gonorrhea and not Mgen, yet Mgen infects more than twice as many people as gonorrhea.
So why haven’t you heard of it?
Despite being described as an “emerging issue” by the CDC in 2015, Mgen is hard to diagnose and is often mistreated. Many patients with Mgen will first have treatment for chlamydia, for example.
- Mgen often does not cause any symptoms in patients. If it does show signs, they can be vague, making diagnosis much more difficult. If they are present, signs of Mgen can include pelvic pain, cervicitis, urethritis, discharge or bleeding, vaginal irritation and pain with urinating.
- The disease was only discovered in the 1980s and there is much left to be found out. Researchers know that further problems can include pelvic inflammatory disease and possible infertility, pre-term birth and spontaneous loss of pregnancy, but more study needs to be done to truly understand the infection.
- There is currently no FDA approved test for Mycoplasma genitalium. A nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT) can be done if the patient and/or doctor suspect Mgen. But, as we mentioned before, the STI usually doesn’t show symptoms. Even when the disease is suspected, NAAT isn’t available for most cases. Increasing recognition of the illness could help make necessary tests more accessible.
- One thing we do know is that Mgen is notably resistant to antibiotics. According to Lisa Manhart, professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington, the main drug used to treat Mgen, azithromycin, successfully cures patients only “50 percent of the time or less.” Such a low success rate is worrying, especially as antibiotic resistance becomes more of a health concern. If azithromycin fails the next step would be moxifloxacin, a more specialized antibiotic.
- Problems with diagnosing means the STI has likely flown under the radar for some time. The numbers for Mgen infection could be much higher than we previously thought.
If you have the disease, you should avoid having sex for one week after you start treatment. You should also consider testing and treatment and speaking with your sexual partners about the STI.
Written for Passport Health by Katherine Meikle. Katherine is a freelance writer and proud first-generation British-American living in Florida, where she was born and raised. She has a passion for travel and a love of writing, which go hand-in-hand.