As if there weren’t already enough bad STD news to worry about—a recent study suggests there's a new sexually transmitted infection in town. Introducing: mycoplasma genitalium, or MG.
Though experts have known of MG’s existence since the '80s, the new paper published in the International Journal of Epidemiology reveals that the bacterial infection, which resides in the urinary and genital tracts, likely spreads through sexual contact.
To reach their findings, researchers at University College London, examined urine samples of 4,507 men and women between 18 and 44 years old who were sexually active with at least one partner. Of these participants, 48 women and 24 men were diagnosed with MG. However, when the researchers tested urine samples from about 200 teenagers who had never had sex, zero tested positive for the infection.
We spoke with Raquel Dardik, MD, a clinical associate professor at NYU Langone’s Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health, to get the facts on the “new” STD.
What are the symptoms?
Just like many other STDs, MG is often asymptomatic, Dr. Dardik says. In fact, the University College London study found that 94.4% of men and 56.2% of women with MG didn’t report any symptoms.
However there are some tip-offs. For women, this includes irritation, painful urination, and bleeding after sex, Dr. Dardik explains. For men, the most common signs are painful urination or a watery discharge from the penis.
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MG has been linked to both inflammation in the cervix (cervicitis) and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which is a serious condition often caused by other STDs like chlamydia and gonorrhea. Dr. Dardik says that about 10% of women who develop PID (which causes abdominal pain, fever, painful cervix, and pain or bleeding during sex) can blame MG as the underlying cause.
Can I get tested?
Yes, you can definitely ask your doctor to test you, especially if the symptoms sound familiar. But part of the reason experts are just now finding out MG is sexually transmitted is that it's not quite as easy as getting tested for say, chlamydia or another STD, Dr. Dardik explains.
Why? Far fewer labs offer the test, which means your doctor will have to send it to the nearest research center or big university lab that offers it, which can delay your results significantly depending on where you live.
The good news: Dr. Dardik is confident that in light of the new findings, more labs will jump at the opportunity to add these tests to their repertoire.
In the meantime, she stresses: “If you have [symptoms of an] infection, but all the tests come back negative, it’s important to consider that MG may be the cause.”
Is it treatable?
Thankfully, yes. The antibiotic azithromycin (the same "Z-pack" you take when you get strep throat) is effective against MG, Dr. Dardik says.
How can I prevent it?
“Condoms, condoms, condoms,” Dr. Dardik says. “The bottom line is it’s a bacteria, and condoms are very effective against bacteria.”