When most people think of STDs, the more common ones like genital herpes, chlamydia and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) are what usually come to mind. However, there are various types of diseases that can be transmitted through sexual contact and some of the ones you may not have heard of are now becoming more common. Mycoplasma genitalium, or “M. genitalium,” is one such disease that’s affecting a growing number of people each day.
When M. genitalium was first discovered in 1980, there was no known link to sexual activity. Sometime in the mid-1990s, researchers discovered that many people who had tested positive for the disease had sexual partners who were also infected. Further evidence showed that it was more common in people who had at least four partners during the previous year than in those who had one or fewer partners. It was also more common in those who admitted to participating in unprotected sex, whereas there were no cases discovered in those who had never had sex.
- genitalium is a bacterial infection of the genitals and urinary tract. It is typically contracted through unprotected sexual contact (vaginal, oral or anal) with an infected person. It is also possible to contract the disease by sharing sex toys with someone who has it.
Signs and Symptoms
In men, M. genitalium may cause inflammation of the urethra (urethritis). This can cause a burning sensation during urination and possibly a watery genital discharge. It may also cause pain or swelling in the joints.
Women may also experience inflammation of the urethra, as well as of the cervix (cervicitis). Some women may also develop pelvic inflammatory diseases, such as endometritis and salpingitis. This can lead to pain or bleeding during sex, bleeding after sex, bleeding between periods, vaginal itching and infertility.
It’s important to note that the results of one new study published by the International Journal of Epidemiology showed that 94 percent of men and 56 percent of women with the disease displayed no symptoms at all.
Although free std testing clinics are available for similar diseases, the Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved a test for M. genitalium and doctors rarely check patients for the bacteria. This is partly due to the fact that its known symptoms are similar to those of other sexually transmitted diseases that are more common, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. Many of the cases that have been diagnosed were discovered in patients who had not responded to treatment for those other diseases, tipping their doctors off that something else was to blame.
Since so many cases are mistaken for other STDs, it’s likely that almost any new patient has already been given antibiotics for one of those diseases and seen little or no improvement. The types of antibiotics prescribed for urethritis, cervicitis and pelvic inflammatory diseases are not very effective against M. genitalium. When a doctor discovers that a patient has the bacteria, they are typically treated with a five day course of antibiotics that have been proven effective against it. In most cases, antibiotic treatment is sufficient to rid the person of the disease.
As with any other sexually transmitted disease, there are ways to decrease your odds of becoming infected. The most effective strategy is to practice safe sex by using condoms. Both male and female condoms provide a physical barrier that has been proven effective at preventing both pregnancy and STD infection.
If you do have multiple partners or are frequently changing partners, you should get tested regularly, regardless of whether you’re having symptoms. It’s also better not to share sex toys at all. If you do, make sure they are thoroughly cleaned between uses and covered with condoms, if possible.
In the event that you do have it, it’s better to catch it early and prevent some of the long-term complications that are associated with it. Furthermore, it is your responsibility to avoid spreading the disease to others. The best course of action is to refrain from sexual activity with others until treatment is complete and you are given a clean bill of health.
Research continues on this little-known STD in an effort to determine how common it really is. The results will help the FDA decide whether routine screening for M. genitalium is warranted. If you think you may have Mycoplasma genitalium or any other STD, be sure to see your doctor right away and get tested.
Natalie Martin is a freelance writer, and when she is not working on her next article she can usually be found in her garden. She attended the University of Cincinnati before turning to writing, and now spends much of her time drawing attention to some of the major health problems that are plaguing the country today. Natalie resides along the Gulf Coast with her 6 year old Labrador Retriever.