As if there weren’t enough sexually transmitted diseases to worry about, Mycoplasma genitalium is now being more closely scrutinised by public officials. A British sexual health organisation recently released new guidelines for stopping it from becoming the next superbug, and the least we can do is be aware that it exists.
The bacterium — call it MG for short — infects about one per cent of people in the UK, and a 2007 study found a similar rate among young people in the US. The Royal Women’s Hospital Centre for Infectious Diseases in Melbourne estimates that approximately 400,000 Australians may be infected.
That may sound relatively rare, but it’s higher than the rate for gonorrhoea, which you’ve surely heard of.
MG has been under the radar because its symptoms are vague, and many people don’t know they have it. It can cause vaginal irritation, pelvic pain, pain with urinating, and discharge or bleeding.
None of these are symptoms that will make your provider say “oh yeah, you have MG” since they all have other causes, too — including chlamydia. And some people have no symptoms at all.
But, left untreated, it may be able to cause pelvic inflammatory disease, which can lead to infertility.
Until recently there wasn’t even a commercially available test for it. The British Association for Sexual Health and HIV says that all these factors combine to make this a stealth infection that’s often mistreated, increasing the chance that it will become resistant to antibiotics.
In other words, unless providers are more aware of it and testing becomes more available, it could become even easier to catch and harder to treat.
For now, all you and I can do is be aware that this STD is out there. If you have unexplained pain that matches MG’s symptoms, bring up the possibility with your healthcare provider and ask if it might be appropriate to do an MG test.