Hundreds of Thousands Could Have Sexually Transmitted Infection—and Not Even Realize It

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Newman_151115A recently discovered sexually transmitted infection (STI) may already be affecting hundreds of thousands of people, according to a new study.

For years, the health risks of STIs like herpes, syphilis, gonorrhea, and HIV have been screened for in STI tests. However, according to a new study, the lesser-known mycoplasma genitalium (MG) STI may be affecting many people. As the STI has few noticeable symptoms, it is possible many people may be infected without knowing it.

The study, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, looked at over 4,500 sexually-active British people between the ages of 16 and 44. Urine samples from these people were analyzed for MG. Researchers also studied urine samples from over 180 teenagers who had never had sex.

The results showed that among the sexually active, 1.2% of men and 1.3% of women had MG. None of the non-sexually-active teenagers had MG.

Over 90% of men with MG had no symptoms, while slightly over half of women with MG reported the same. While the majority of people with MG had no symptoms, the STI has been linked to testicular pain, discharge, and, in women, bleeding after sex.

While the STI has few noticeable symptoms, it has been linked to a wider range of negative health effects. It is believed that MG can contribute to infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, inflammation of a man’s urethra, and pregnancy complications.

The vast majority of MG cases were found in people between the ages of 25 and 44, with this age group making up over 90% of male cases and over 66% of female cases. STI screening and awareness is often aimed at younger people, including teenagers and those in their early 20s.

The study found that MG incidence was linked to several factors. One of the most common factors that increased the risk of contracting MG was risky sexual behavior or a high number of sexual partners. For people who had more than four sexual partners, 5.2% of men and 3.1% of women had MG.

The study also found that some groups of people were more likely to be affected by MG. These included black men and people who lived in lower-income neighborhoods.

Currently, routine laboratory testing and screening is not available for MG. The study’s findings may pave the way for further research into the health effects of MG.

The current concern is that many people may be carrying the infection without realizing it. “These findings suggest that only testing those who are currently symptomatic would miss the majority of infections,” said Dr. Pam Sonnenberg, lead author of the study.

While the long-term implications of the STI are not known, it is likely that the same recommended preventative measures for sex, such as condom use, could help stop the spread of MG.

Sources for Today’s Article:
“STI known as MG could have infected hundreds of thousands in UK,” The Guardian web site, November 12, 2015;

Hodgekiss, A., “Scientists identify new STD that could affect hundreds of thousands of adults – and it often has NO symptoms,” November 12, 2015;
Russell, P., “Thousands may have new STI,” WebMD web site, November 13, 2015;