#AskDocQ: Should I Be Worried About This New Mycoplasma STI?

What’s all the fuss about this new STI Mycoplasma? Should I be worried?

Mycoplasma genitalium has only recently come to light as an emerging STI. It causes infection in the rectum and both the male and female genital tracts. It is not known what the long-term consequences are (if any) of untreated infection.

Symptoms are usually mild but annoying, and may include discharge from the penis, irritation when passing urine, testicular pain, or a vaginal discharge.

It is treated with very specific antibiotics, but unfortunately it is very often resistant to commonly used antibiotics, and some infections can be very hard to treat.

A test for this infection is available, but it is not generally ordered as part of routine STI screening. The reason for this is that it’s possible that this bug may be found in perfectly healthy people with no harm being done, and since it’s rather difficult to treat with standard antibiotics, we would rather avoid unnecessarily exposing people to long courses of antibiotics.

Usually a test will be done for one of two reasons. Either you have symptoms that haven’t settled with the usual drugs we use to treat urethritis, or you are a regular sexual partner of someone who has been diagnosed with M. genitalium.

If you test positive you may be offered treatment with standard antibiotics, but as I mentioned resistance can be a problem. There is a special test that can check to see what antibiotics your infection is resistant to, but at this stage it’s not available outside of hospital research settings.

My advice is not to worry too much about this particular infection, but to always get any symptoms investigated, and if standard STIs are not found, and your symptoms don’t respond to simple antibiotic therapy, a Mycoplasma test may be warranted.

I’ve never had STI testing. What’s involved?

If you’re a sexually active person, you have more than likely been advised at some point to be tested for STIs–sexually transmitted infections. There are quite a few infections that can be transmitted through sexual contact, and to check for all of them requires a few different samples to be collected.

Firstly, a blood sample–this tests for HIV, Hepatitis A, B and C and syphilis. Your blood can also be tested for exposure to the herpes viruses, although this is not a routine screening test.

Next a urine sample–this tests for chlamydia and gonorrhoea.

Next come the swabs–throat swabs and rectal swabs. You may be asked to collect your own rectal swab in the bathroom (it’s easy) but your doctor can collect it if you prefer. All these swabs are also looking for chlamydia and gonorrhoea, which can hide out in these locations and may not cause any symptoms.

The turnaround time for test results is usually quoted as seven days, although often results do come in sooner than this.

There is also the option of having a rapid test for some of these infections–rapid HIV tests using finger prick blood samples are available at certain GP clinics, and free rapid HIV/syphilis/chlamydia/gonorrhoea testing is available at the Rapid Clinic at 2 Winn Street, Fortitude Valley.

There are some other more specialized STI tests which are not offered as general screening tests, and tend to be used if you have specific symptoms that are being investigated. So it’s always important to mention any symptoms you have, no matter how trivial they may seem.

Dr Fiona Bisshop specialises in LGBT health. Read more by Dr Fiona Bisshop on her website or contact her on Twitter.

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