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This Worrisome Bacterial Pelvic Infection Can Cause Infertility

You’ve probably heard of many sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that commonly spread, such as human papillomavirus (HPV), herpes and chlamydia. But there’s another STI that’s on the rise, called Mycoplasma genitalium. It’s a bacterium that can live in the genital tract, urethra and rectum of women, and the urethra and rectum of men, and can pass to sexual partners through unprotected sex. 

It’s crucial to take steps to avoid a Mycoplasma genitalium infection since it can cause:

  • Pelvic and cervical infections in women
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  • Infertility
  • Miscarriage
  • Preterm delivery

We talked to Heather Reed, MD, an OBGYN at Banner - University Medicine North in Tucson, AZ, and she answered some of our questions about this STI.

Who is at risk of infection?

If you are sexually active and having unprotected sex, you’re at risk. Mycoplasma genitalium bacteria are causing increasing numbers of STIs, and high-risk sexual behaviors, like having unprotected sex with multiple sexual partners will put you at a higher risk. 

What are the symptoms?

In women, infections don’t generally cause symptoms at first, so it can be hard to know if you are infected. You might notice an unusual vaginal discharge with a foul odor if you do have symptoms. 

Symptoms develop once Mycoplasma genitalium has caused pelvic inflammatory disease. At that point, you might notice pelvic pain, pain during intercourse and abnormal vaginal bleeding. “It is important that if you have symptoms of a pelvic infection, you see a provider so you can avoid complications,” Dr. Reed said.

Men might notice a thin, watery discharge from the penis or a burning feeling when urinating.

How can you prevent this infection?

Since the Mycoplasma genitalium bacteria spreads through sexual contact, be sure to use a condom when having sex. 

How is Mycoplasma genitalium diagnosed?

Medical professionals can test a urine sample or a cervical or vaginal swab. But it’s not important to test for it specifically since the treatment is the same for other bacteria that cause STIs or pelvic inflammatory disease. 

“It really is not necessary to test specifically for this bacterium in all cases,” Dr. Reed said. If you have a cervical infection or pelvic inflammatory disease that’s resistant to medication, your doctor may recommend testing to check for this type of bacteria.

How is it treated?

You need two types of antibiotics to treat it. The first is called doxycycline, which is the antibiotic that’s typically used to treat all cases of pelvic inflammatory disease. So, if your doctor suspects pelvic inflammatory disease, the treatment will also be the first step in treating Mycoplasma genitalium. 

Your doctor needs to choose the second medication carefully since there is a growing strain of Mycoplasma genitalium that is antibiotic resistant. “The high rate of resistance in these bacteria mean two drugs are needed to treat it,” Dr. Reed said. Your doctor can recommend the best second antibiotic for treatment.

And what about your partner or partners? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that health care providers consider testing the sexual partners of people who have a symptomatic infection. But if that’s not possible, partners should be prescribed the same course of antibiotics as the person with the infection.

The bottom line

Mycoplasma genitalium is a sexually transmitted disease that’s on the rise. At first, women don’t usually have symptoms, but they can develop pelvic inflammatory disease. This infection is linked to infertility, miscarriage and premature birth. If you would like to talk to a health care professional about ways to reduce your risk of STIs, reach out to Banner Health.

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