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Sexually transmitted infections can be worrisome and embarrassing, but with a few notable exceptions, most of them are quite treatable these days. Unfortunately, a new one may be on the rise. British public health officials say that Mycoplasma genitalium, a bacterial infection known as Mgen for short, could soon become immune to antibiotics. If this happens, the bacterium would become what’s known as a superbug, the growing class of bacteria that have developed a resistance to antibiotic drugs.

The bacterium, which can live in humans’ urinary and genital tracts, is transmitted through sexual intercourse. Women infected with the bacterium can experience pelvic inflammation and cervical inflammation, while men can experience swelling of the urethra. An infected patient would feel these symptoms, generally speaking, as pain. Perhaps most disconcertingly, though, sometimes the infection will not cause any noticeable symptoms, meaning that an infected person can transmit it without even realizing that they’re doing so. If the infection is left untreated for too long, it can cause female patients to become sterile.

In response to the emerging threat posed by Mgen, the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV on Sunday issued its draft guidelines for dealing with Mgen. The organization also warned that antibiotic-resistant Mgen could become much more prevalent in the coming years.

In its recommendations, BASHH officials explain that MGen typically responds to treatment with azithromycin, a common antibiotic, “in the majority of cases.” But in some cases, they report, the bacterium has shown resistance to drugs like moxifoxacin, especially in Asia.

Even though this disease is emerging as an infection of concern, it’s not yet time to panic. The CDC reports that while the number of cases of MGen is higher than that of Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacterium that causes gonorrhea, it’s still relatively uncommon in the US.

Ansell Condoms at the 2018 UNSW Med Revue
Public health officials recommend using condoms to help prevent the spread of Mycoplasma genitalium.

Nonetheless, public health officials aren’t taking any chances, and BASHH offered doctors several recommendations for treating patients in ways that could help lessen the chance of developing antibiotic-resistant bacteria, including spacing out doses of azithromycin over multiple days to help ensure that the entire population of pathogenic bacteria is obliterated. This part is key, since researchers have found that using antibiotics for shorter periods of times can sometimes foster resistance by leaving behind particularly resilient bugs.

And with the rise of super gonorrhea in the US recent years, public health officials have seen just how readily a disease-causing bacterium can mutate into harder-to-treat forms.

Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to protect yourself from MGen. Since it’s spread by genital transmission, using condoms during sexual intercourse can greatly reduce your chances of transmission.