A new possible “superbug” STI that has proven resistant to antibiotics thus far has scientists worried amid an “out of control” STD epidemic, with the medical community saying more screenings for the disease are needed.

Mycoplasma genitalium — also known as M. genitalium or M. gen — is a sexually-transmitted bacterial infection that can cause genital pain, bleeding and swelling as well as infertility and miscarriage.

According to scientists, the worrisome part of the infection is that there is little testing and information available for the disease.

Amid warnings about an “out of control” STD epidemic, scientists have sounded the alarm about a new possible “superbug” STI that has proven resistant to antibiotics.
Thomas Deernick, NCMIR / Science

“It’s a real concern,” said Dr. Irene Stafford, associate professor of maternal fetal medicine at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, per NBC News. “Why are we not looking into this?

Like other common sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, M. gen can present sometimes as asymptomatic and people can carry it for years without realizing — but the complications can be severe.

A study published in the Sexually Transmitted Infection journal in May reported the risk of preterm birth increased by nearly double in women that had M. gen.

Stafford called for more research and testing into the STI this week during the CDC’s conference for the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases as the organization warned of an “out of control” rise in STD cases in the US.

M. Gen can be passed on through genital to genital sex as well as passed on to unborn babies through mother-to-baby transmission.

Simon Clarke, an associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, told the Daily Mail there is a possibility the STI could become a “superbug” and completely resistant to antibiotics.

Mycoplasma genitalium -- also known as M. genitalium or M. gen -- is a sexually-transmitted bacterial infection.
Mycoplasma genitalium — also known as M. genitalium or M. gen — is a sexually-transmitted bacterial infection.
Journal of Clinical Microbiology

Clarke identified the lack of information around the disease as the problem, telling the publication it will continue to get more dominant for as long as people are not aware of it.

According to the professor, the path to becoming a superbug is a vicious cycle: Doctors continue to prescribe antibiotics usually used to treat STIs and it fuels their resistance to that antibiotic. This gives M. gen. the potential to evolve into a superbug.

M. gem can cause genital pain, bleeding and swelling as well as infertility and miscarriage.
M. gem can cause genital pain, bleeding and swelling as well as infertility and miscarriage.
Journal of Clinical Microbiology

The CDC doesn’t recommend regular tests for M. Gen and the only test to identify it — called the Aptima nucleic acid amplification test — was only approved in 2019 and is not yet available everywhere.

Patients will only be tested for M. gen if they test negative for other STIs and have persistent symptoms.

M. Gen can be passed on through genital to genital sex as well as passed on to unborn babies through mother-to-baby transmission.
M. Gen can be passed on through genital to genital sex as well as passed on to unborn babies through mother-to-baby transmission.
Journal of Clinical Microbiology

It’s difficult to tell what demographic of people the disease affects the most and what the exact symptoms of M. Gen are, although some identified symptoms include:

  • Pain and discomfort while urinating.
  • Abnormal discharge for both men and women.
  • Women might also experience pain in the lower abdomen and bleeding after sex. 

Infections rates for some STDs have been rising for years in the USA. Last year the rate of syphilis cases reached its highest since 1991 and the total number of cases hit its highest since 1948. HIV cases are also on the rise, up 16% last year.

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