‘Untreatable’ STI linked to infertility due to ‘silent spread’

A potential new sexually transmitted “superbug” that has so far proved resistant to antibiotics has scientists worried amid an “out-of-control” STD epidemic, with the medical community saying more testing of the disease is needed.

Mycoplasma genitalium, also known as M. genitalium or M. gen, is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection that can cause genital pain, bleeding and swelling, as well as infertility and miscarriage.

According to scientists, the worrying aspects of the outbreak are that there is little evidence and little information available about it.

Amid warnings of an “out of control” sexually transmitted disease epidemic, scientists have sounded the alarm about a possible new “superbug” that has proven resistant to antibiotics.
Thomas Deernick, NCMIR / Science

“It’s a real concern,” Dr. Irene Stafford, an associate professor of maternal-fetal medicine at UTHealth Houston’s McGovern Medical School, told NBC News. “Why aren’t we looking at this?

Like other common sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, M. gen can sometimes be asymptomatic, and people can carry it for years without realizing they are infected, but complications they can be serious.

A study published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections in May reported that the risk of preterm birth was nearly doubled in women who had M. gen.

Stafford called for more research and testing on STIs this week during the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s conference on preventing sexually transmitted diseases, as the organization warned of an increase “out of control ” of STI cases in the US.

M. gen can be transmitted through genital-to-genital sex and can also be passed to unborn babies through mother-to-baby transmission.

Simon Clarke, associate professor of cellular microbiology at the University of Reading in England, told the Daily Mail that there is a chance that STIs will become a “superbug” and become completely resistant to antibiotics.

Mycoplasma genitalium -- also known as M. genitalium or M. gen -- is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection.
Mycoplasma genitalium, also known as M. genitalium or M. gen, is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection.
Journal of clinical microbiology

Clarke identified a lack of information about the disease as the problem, telling the publication that it will continue to become more prevalent as long as people are not aware of it.

According to the professor, the path to becoming a superbug is a vicious circle: doctors continue to prescribe antibiotics that are commonly used to treat STIs, and this feeds their resistance to that antibiotic. This gives M. gen. the potential to evolve into a superbug.

M. gem can cause genital pain, bleeding and swelling, as well as infertility and miscarriage.
M. gem can cause genital pain, bleeding and swelling, as well as infertility and miscarriage.
Journal of clinical microbiology

The CDC does not recommend regular testing for M. gen, and the only test to identify it, called the Aptima nucleic acid amplification test, was only approved in 2019 and is not yet widely available.

Patients will only be tested for M. gen if they test negative for other STIs and have persistent symptoms.

M. Gen can be transmitted through genital-to-genital sex and can also be passed to unborn babies through mother-to-baby transmission.
M. gen can be transmitted through genital-to-genital sex and can also be passed to unborn babies through mother-to-baby transmission.
Journal of clinical microbiology

It is difficult to know which demographic group of people is most affected by the disease and what the exact symptoms of M. gen are, although some of the identified symptoms include:

  • Pain and discomfort when urinating.
  • Abnormal discharge for both men and women.
  • Women may also experience lower abdominal pain and bleeding after sex.

Infection rates for some STIs have been rising for years in the United States. Last year, the rate of syphilis cases reached its highest level since 1991, and the total number of cases reached its highest level since 1948. HIV cases are also increasing, by 16% more last year.

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