PostHeaderIcon Understanding Mycoplasma Genitalium

Mycoplasma: The Facts

In this day and age, most sexually active people are fairly clued up on sexually transmitted infections. Though STIs are still widespread across the world, the advent of the internet and more open, honest storylines appearing on TV and in film have helped to educate people about the risks of unprotected sex.

Although the average person on the street would be able to name chlamydia, gonorrhoea and herpes as three common STIs to watch out for, how many of us are aware of Mycoplasma genitalium?

Last December, a new study looking at a large group of UK adults found that 1 in 100 were infected with Mycoplasma genitalium. It also found that mycoplasma was not present in any people who had never had sex, and that the risk of infection was higher in people who had multiple partners or who practised unsafe sex – confirming, in other words, that mycoplasma is a sexually transmitted infection.

More recently, scientific study has focused upon developing ways to effectively treat mycoplasma. This is because, as with so-called "super" gonorrhoea, certain strains of mycoplasma have developed a resistance to antibiotics such as azithromycin. Luckily, the latest reports indicate that there has been some success in developing treatments that combat this resistance.

The question now is – what exactly is mycoplasma? And how can we avoid catching it?


What is mycoplasma?

Mycoplasma Genitalium is a type of bacteria and a sexually transmitted infection that can cause urethritis (inflammation of the urethra). A mycoplasma infection often comes with no symptoms however. When symptoms do appear, they tend to closely mirror other infections such as chlamydia and trichomoniasis, and include:

  • A burning sensation when urinating
  • Unusual discharge from the penis or vagina
  • In women, pain in the pelvic area and bleeding during or after sex

The problem is that mycoplasma infection is not currently tested for on the NHS. Instead a diagnosis of "non-specific urethritis" will usually be made (after other STIs have been ruled out), with treatment taking the form of a short course of antibiotics, normally azithromycin or doxycycline. As we’ve seen, though, mycoplasma bacteria have been shown to be resistant to azithromycin at certain dosages and regimens, which means this type of non-targeted treatment may often be ineffective.

The good news is that it is possible to get tested for mycoplasma through private services online. If you test positive, a specific targeted treatment can be made available. 

How is Mycoplasma infection spread?

You can contract a mycoplasma infection by having unprotected sex that allows for the bacteria to come into contact with your genitals. The most common sexual act that will lead to infection is unprotected penetrative sex.

The best way to avoid contracting Mycoplasma, therefore, is to always use condoms during sex if you aren’t sure that your sexual partner is free from infection.

What are the complications of Mycoplasma?

It isn’t yet known what kind of specific health complications Mycoplasma can lead to if left untreated. However, it’s thought that in men there may be a link between mycoplasma and epididymitis (inflammation of the tubes that carry sperm). The World Health Organization has also discussed a possible link between mycoplasma in women and conditions such as cervicitis (inflammation of the cervix), pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility.

As with other sexually transmitted infections, it’s also thought that mycoplasma infection could be linked to an increased risk of HIV transmission, via a process known as "shedding".

What should I do if I think I’ve been infected?

If you think you might have contracted mycoplasma, you can get tested through a private service that screens specifically for this infection. However, it’s important to understand that many other types of STI have similar symptoms – for that reason, if you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, it’s a good idea to get a full STI screen.

It’s also important to get regularly tested for STIs if you are having sex with multiple partners or engaging in unprotected sex. Many STIs are often symptomless, so even if you feel completely healthy it’s still wise to get regular check-ups. And remember – when in doubt, always use a condom.