Gird Your Loins, There's A New STI Doing The Rounds

And it's nearing super bug status. Yeesh.

You're probably pretty savvy about most of the common STIs out there -- herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhoea and the like -- but we bet you haven't heard about Mycoplasma genitalium.

Sounds kinda scary, right?

Well, that's because it is kinda scary, and for a couple of major reasons.

Not only is Mycoplasma genitalium, or 'MG', largely asymptomatic -- meaning you might not know if you have it -- there is limited testing, and treatment is often hampered by ineffective antibiotics.

Then there's the kicker: MG is estimated to be present in about two percent of the Australian population -- that’s about 480,000 people, on par with chlamydia. Yikes.

We got the 4-1-1 on this little-known and difficult to diagnose sexually-transmitted infection from Sydney-based General Practitioner and host of Embarrassing Bodies Down Under, Dr Brad McKay.

Our first question for the good doctor was along the lines of, 'why the heck haven't we heard about this seemingly secret STI before??'

"We’ve known about [MG] since the 1980s, but it’s been really difficult to diagnose," Dr McKay told ten daily.

He explained that it's because the pathology tests rely on checking for the presence of specific bacterial DNA, which is extremely difficult to grow in a lab.

On top of that, Dr McKay pointed out Australian doctors only recently got access to an efficient and accurate test for MG.

"In the past, we’d send off a urine sample and wait for weeks before we finally received a result, but now it takes just a few days," he said.

Doctors are now able to give a more definitive diagnosis more quickly, so at least there's some good news.

As mentioned earlier, most people with MG don’t actually show any symptoms, or if they do appear -- it usually takes one to three weeks -- the symptoms are really mild.

According to Dr McKay, only a small percentage of people with ongoing symptoms end up seeing their GP.

MG causes inflammation of the urethra, cervix, and sometimes the rectum. The symptoms can include painful urination, watery discharge, and discomfort or bleeding following sex.

In extreme cases, an MG infection can lead to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease  which can in turn result in infertility. It has even been associated with miscarriages and premature delivery in pregnant women.

Treating MG isn't straightforward, and it all has to do with drug-resistant bacteria.

"It’s tricky ... because more than 60 percent of cases [of MG] are already resistant to the antibiotics we routinely use to treat sexually transmitted infections," Dr McKay said.

It seems the need to take care of other, more prominent STIs has meant MG has been able to cruise under the radar, so to speak.

Dr McKay hopes MG doesn’t continue to build resistance to more and more antibiotic strains, as we really don't want a super bug situation on our hands.

On a positive note, the newly improved testing process not only detects if MG is present but also reads the bacteria's genetic code.

This allows doctors to target the infection with the most effective antibiotics available -- typically a combo of two types -- which are used for seven to 14 days, before re-testing after about three weeks.

Here are Dr McKay's key takeaway points when it comes to Mycoplasma genitalium:

  • If you have unusual genital symptoms, see your GP or sexual health clinic.
  • If your tests come back negative -- or you continue to have symptoms after standard treatment for chlamydia or gonorrhoea -- then speak with your GP about the need for MG testing.
  • If you’re prescribed antibiotics by your doctor, take them as directed -- this also helps to curb the rise of drug-resistant bacteria.
  • If you’re treated for MG, make sure you use condoms or abstain from sex until your clearance test is negative.
  • If you’re diagnosed with MG, let your sexual partners know -- if it’s too awkward to do in person or by phone you can send an anonymous message online at letthemknow.org.au or thedramadownunder.info

Stay safe and healthy, everyone.

Feature image: Universal Pictures.