I consider myself someone who stays informed about women’s health issues, and I have pretty good knowledge of women’s reproductive health in particular. But I was completely baffled when I recently learned about an STD called mycoplasma genitalium. Called Mgen for short, it’s actually more common than gonorrhea, and causes all sort of health issues, including infertility (yikes).
But almost no one has heard of it. I bet you haven’t, either.
Mgen is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection that affects about 1-3% of the population, both men and women. According to The Baltimore Sun, doctors have known about Mgen since 1980, but the CDC only officially recognized it as a disease in 2015.
Part of the reason folks like you and I have never heard of Mgen is because we’ve never been offered a test for it at our OBGYN appointments. The reason for this is simple (and shocking, considering how prevalent Mgen is): there is no approved test for it yet.
Yep, you read that right. An STD that affects thousands of people and causes serious side effects has no official test and is barely on anyone’s radar. How very comforting.
There’s some good news, though. As The Baltimore Sun points out, researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health are on the case. They want to raise more awareness about Mgen – and most importantly are working on a test for the STD as we speak.
“Our research really suggests that if nothing else, we should think carefully about how we might begin to incorporate testing for Mgen on a regular basis,” said Dr. Maria Trent, professor of pediatrics and public health at Johns Hopkins University.
Dr. Trent is heavily involved in the campaign to get this test solidified, and in particular to protect women who have contracted the STD. She has already conducted research on Mgen’s link to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can cause all kinds of issues for women, including infertility.
The test that the researchers are hoping to use was developed by Speed X, in Australia. It’s already being used in Australia, the UK, Europe, and New Zealand. Dr. Trent is working on getting CDC approval so we can use it here, too. (Please get on that ASAP, Dr. Trent!)
So now the burning question is: What are the symptoms of Mgen, and how do you know if you have it?
Part of the reason Mgen remains so illusive is because the symptoms of it are similar to the symptoms of other common STDs like chlamydia and gonorrhea. In males, that might look like watery discharge from the penis and painful urination. Females will have more vaginal discharge than usual, pelvic pain, and bleeding and pain during and after sex.
Although the CDC says more research on the matter is warranted, there is some evidence that, if untreated, Mgen can cause infertility in both men and women, which is very concerning.
And if that wasn’t worrisome enough, the estimates of how many people are affected by Mgen may even be higher than the 1-3% estimate, especially among the higher risk population (people with multiple sex partners). According to Lisa Manhart, a professor from the University of Washington who has studied Mgen for years, up to 20% of that higher-risk population could have Mgen.
What’s scariest, of course, is that these folks may be walking around with no symptoms, and yet potentially wrecking havoc on their bodies and others’.
“With [Mgen] there is this vile inflammation that a woman isn’t aware of,” Manhart said. “But it is the inflammation that causes the damage that can cause the infertility.”
Welp. I don’t know about you, but this is the exact stuff that gives me nightmares.
I find that the best way to assuage my various apocalyptic worries, though, is to take action. So if you have any symptoms of Mgen, or suspicions that you might have contracted it, get to your doctor ASAP to discuss your options.
And don’t forget to practice safe sex. Always.