Mycoplasma is a type of bacteria that lives inside cells, not having cell walls of their own. Several species of it can cause disease in humans, including Mycoplasma Genitalium (M. Genitalium or ‘MG’) which is believed to be involved in Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID).
MG can infect any lining in the body including eyes, lungs, urinary tract and genitals. If an infected person coughs near your face, it can be enough to contract the bacteria in the lungs; based on leading evidence, having unprotected sex with a person who’s a carrier can expose the urinary tract and genitals to the same infection.
MG is an emerging cause of Sexually Transmitted Diseases/Infections (STDs/STIs), because the condition is difficult to accurately detect. Based on research evidence that has been collected since its discovery, it can eventually have devastating results if left untreated, the ultimate being tubal inflammation and (eventually) infertility.
With symptoms that are similar to those of other bacterial STDs/STIs, MG (though a common organism in the body) is usually associated with other venereal diseases like Gonorrhea or Chlamydia.
Some of the more typical symptoms of M. Genitalium include the following:
- feeling like there is a hair in the urinary tube;
- painful burning sensation during urination;
- pain sensation when the bladder becomes full, or during sexual intercourse;
- for women, menstrual spotting;
- inflammatory lower genital tract syndromes including urethritis & cervicitis;
- vaginal discharge characterized as heavy, yellow, or green-gray with mucous-like or creamy consistency;
- feeling the need to constantly urinate; and
- depending on severity, no symptoms at all.
A doctor may also suspect MG if a woman has a foul or fishy vaginal odor. However, this is also often a sign of another, more common vaginal infection called Bacterial Vaginosis. It has also been associated with urethritis in both men and women, and cervicitis in women.
Infection of the genitals by M. Genitalium is fairly common and can be transmitted between sexual partners having unprotected sex. Collectively, MG has a high prevalence in both (normally) high-risk and low-risk populations.
According to a study done in 2011 by Louisiana State University Health Center, MG was present in the general population at rates between those of Chlamydia trachomatis and Neisseria gonorrhoeae, and has been implicated in urogenital infections affecting both men and women around the world. Convincing evidence has emerged pointing to MG being a factor in PID and infertility. It has also indicated that a significant proportion of upper tract inflammation may be attributed to this “elusive pathogen”.
As the reported rates of curable STDs/STIs are as high as an estimated 340 million new cases per year, finding adequate measures to diagnose the condition is both an economic and public health concern.
Doctors do not have an effective way to diagnose these bacteria. The problem relates to the screening for M. Genitalium. Not only are the bacteria extremely difficult to culture, even in the confines of a research laboratory, but the symptoms often get confused with other conditions. Thus, health practitioners will usually try to rule out other causes of symptoms before reaching the conclusion that MG is the culprit. Sometimes, the presence of symptoms like urethritis or cervicitis is satisfactory enough evidence to assume that gonorrhea and chlamydia are not the issue and, at that point, doctors will order a course of treatment that presumes MG to be true cause.
Once M. Genitalium is confirmed - or all other possible conditions ruled out - doctors will generally recommend a regimen of antibiotics. The most common treatment is a prescription of long acting erythromycins such as azithromycin. If that fails, the course of treatment is to follow up with alternative treatments using other antibiotics.
Long Term Effects
M. Genitalium has been associated with PID in women. It has also been linked to:
- endometritis, an inflammation of the inner lining of the uterus;
- chronic pelvic pain;
- tubal factor infertility; and
- other inflammatory syndromes of the female reproductive tract.
Although studies aren’t yet conclusive about ways to minimize and/or prevent the transmission of M. Genitalium, initial results show that condom use among sexually active individuals decreases the chance of it spreading approximately half the time. However, even though Condom use only minimizes (rather than prevents) the chances of it being passed onto another person, it is still recommended that they be worn so as to prevent any of the other possible STDs/STIs being transmitted.