Mycoplasma genitalium – the common STI you’ve never heard of

Mycoplasma genitalium – the common STI you’ve never heard of

Mycoplasma genitalium: it’s the sexually transmitted infection (STI)  you’ve never heard of. Even though Mycoplasma genitalium is more common than the bacterium that causes gonorrhea in young adults aged 18-27, it’s not always part of standard STI screenings. So what the heck is Mycoplasma genitalium? And should you be worrying about it?

Mycoplasma genitalium has flown under the radar in part because it’s relatively hard to detect. Just like other STIs, people who are infected may not have any  symptoms, and if they do, their physicians may not always test for Mycoplasma genitalium–partly because it’s difficult to test for using traditional methods. However, thanks to increasingly accessible DNA-based STI screening—and increasing awareness—doctors are now more able than ever to diagnose and treat a Mycoplasma genitalium infection.

 

What the heck is Mycoplasma genitalium anyway ?

Mycoplasma genitalium is a bacterium that infects both male and female genitalia and is passed through sexual intercourse and genital contact. While you may not have heard of Mycoplasma genitalium, that’s not because it’s particularly rare: researchers have found that an estimated 1.3% of adults in developed countries ages 16-44 are infected.

Mycoplasma genitalium is responsible for 20-35% of cases of male urethritis (inflammation of the urethra) not caused by chlamydia or gonorrhea. In women, it is also associated with cervicitis (inflammation of the cervix), pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), and even infertility.

 

How do I know if I have Mycoplasma genitalium ?

Mycoplasma genitalium was first identified as a sexually transmitted infection in the 1980s. Why, then, do so many articles from the past few years call it a “new” or “emerging” STI?

It partly has to do with the nature of the bacterium itself. Mycoplasma genitalium is often symptomless or has symptoms that can be caused by several other infections. In one 2015 study, for example, over 94.4% of men and 56.7% of women who tested positive for Mycoplasma genitalium had not experienced any symptoms in the previous month. If symptoms do appear, men may experience penile discharge and irritation while urinating, while women may experience unusual vaginal discharge, painful sex, and spotting. These are similar to the symptoms of gonorrhea and chlamydia, so it can be tricky to identify Mycoplasma genitalium. Because of this, Mycoplasma genitalium was rarely discussed… simply because few people realized they had it.

Until recently, Mycoplasma genitalium has also been hard to test for. It’s a slow-growing organism, so traditional testing methods (which require isolating and culturing bacteria from a sample) don’t work for Mycoplasma genitalium. Instead, doctors rely on nucleic acid amplification testing (NAAT), which detects the bacterium’s DNA—and that process is often still possible only at big research labs.

That’s why uBiome’s sequencing-based SmartJane test can detect the presence of Mycoplasma genitalium where traditional STI screening might not, and makes testing easier and more accessible to boot. Your doctor can catch a potential Mycoplasma genitalium infection in a preventative SmartJane screening or even order a SmartJane test to check out whether any symptoms present could be Mycoplasma genitalium or another STI.

The same advances in genetics which allow researchers to perform NAAT tests have led to other exciting scientific developments. In 2008 Mycoplasma genitalium became the first bacterium to have its complete genome artificially synthesized by scientists, when a team of researchers from the Venter Institute managed to piece together its entire DNA sequence. In its own way, Mycoplasma genitalium has contributed to scientific progress, too.

 

What about treatment?

Difficulty in diagnosis isn’t the only difficult thing about Mycoplasma genitalium—it can also be tricky to treat.

Since Mycoplasma genitalium has no cell wall, many antibiotics, which target the cell wall, are ineffective. The current go-to treatment, the antibiotic azithromycin, has an 85% cure rate, but researchers have reported a rise in Mycoplasma genitalium’s resistance to azithromycin. Several other drugs are currently being tested, but they’re not on the market yet. If you do have Mycoplasma genitalium, your doctor can find the treatment that works for you.

 

Don’t panic—be proactive!

A sometimes symptomless, rarely screened for STI which is increasingly resistant to antibiotics? We know, we know: Mycoplasma genitalium doesn’t sound like a walk in the park.

But, as always, when it comes to STIs—and hey, your health in general—worrying won’t protect you. Instead, you can be proactive by following common-sense sexual health practices. As with all STIs, communicating with your partner about sexual health is key. Regular condom use especially during intercourse may help protect you from Mycoplasma genitalium, and regular sexual health checkups can enable you to identify and deal with STIs before they become a problem. The more you know, the more power you have.

 

April is STI Awareness Month! Talk to your healthcare provider about your vaginal health. uBiome’s SmartJane test identifies HPV, four common STIs including Mycoplasma genitalium, and 23 bacteria that can be vaginal risk factors for bacterial vaginosis and other conditions.

NOTE: SmartJane is not a replacement for Pap smears or well woman visits and does not detect cancer directly.

Does the Secret to Beating Insomnia Reside in Your Gut?

Insomnia is an ongoing problem for many people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 50 to 70 million adults in the United States have some form of disordered sleep.  

There’s a powerful connection in your body, known as the gut-brain axis, which affects things like your immune system, hormones, brain health, and sleep. Developing science suggests the key to achieving a good night’s sleep may actually reside in your gut.

Our gut microbiome affects the health of our brains in a variety of ways, according to a review paper by Leo Galland, MD, published in the Journal of Medicinal Food:

An imbalance in your gut may lead to systemic inflammation or nervous system inflammation.

In the 2014 review paper, Galland reported that the gut microbiome communicates with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis to form the different stages of sleep you cycle through each night. Certain microbes in your gut can stimulate our body to produce inflammatory substances called cytokines, which create a state of low-grade inflammation in your body or nervous system. Low-grade inflammation also decreases the levels of adrenal outputs, stress hormones, and cortisol and disrupts the intricate balance of the HPA. Essentially, an imbalance in your microbiome can cause an abundance of cytokines in the body, which contributes to disordered sleep.

Gut microbes may produce byproducts that are toxic to the nervous system.

The same study noted that when your microbial ecosystem is in a state of dysbiosis, gut bacteria can produce substances like D-lactic acid and ammonia, which can exert neurotoxic properties and impede the function of the nervous system. Increased levels of neurotoxins may be a factor in diseases like chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and – you guessed it – conditions like insomnia. In fact, the typical chemical processes that induce sleep can be interrupted when high levels of neurotoxins are present in your brain, even though the problem may stem from your gut.  

Your gut bacteria can create and communicate with the hormones and neurotransmitters in your body.

There’s a symbiotic relationship between your gut and your brain by way of the vagus nerve, the longest cranial nerve in your body. The vagus nerve acts as a highway transporting sleep-inducing chemicals like serotonin and gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) to the brain. When your gut flora is in balance, the transportation system works efficiently, and you’re more likely to fall into a restful slumber.

The microbiome can become impaired, however, by stress, lifestyle choices, and medications. Suddenly, you may have a barrage of bacteria producing stimulating chemicals which can leave you wide-eyed and alert, instead of catching some zzz’s.

Galland concluded that there are ways to foster the comprehensive health of the microbiome and improve the symptoms of sleeplessness and insomnia. For starters, your diet can alter the microbiome’s ability to properly function, so the food you consume may be an integral part of improving your sleep.

“Prebiotics, probiotics, and fermented foods such as yogurt may influence the impact of the gut microbiome on the CNS (central nervous system) and have shown significant effects on brain function in a number of experimental trials and clinical studies,” reported Galland.

Studies like this one get us one step closer to understanding the deep connection between the gut, the brain, and sleep. You may need to make a few lifestyle adjustments to beat insomnia and poor sleep quality, but, in the long run, a better night’s rest will improve your overall health and well-being.  

 

Jenny Lelwica Buttaccio, Guest Blogger
Jenny Lelwica Buttaccio, OTR/L, is a medical, health, and lifestyle writer, and a licensed occupational therapist. Her areas of expertise include health conditions, wellness, and chronic illness management. Her work can be found on several leading publications and on her personal blog, The Lyme Road.

Join uBiome’s Support of Patients with IBD

K.M. was an infant when her health problems first began, but she was not diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), until she was 30 years old.

Beginning in her youth, K.M. struggled with digestive issues that never went away. At 30, her pain got so intense that she went to the emergency room. After multiple misdiagnoses, hospital staff conducted a colonoscopy and ultimately determined she had a severe case of ulcerative colitis.

It is people like K.M. whom uBiome is proud to support during the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation’s SF Take Steps fundraising event this May 5th. We invite the entire uBiome community to join us in the walk to promote research, treatment, and programs for people with IBD. Continue reading “Join uBiome’s Support of Patients with IBD”

Adventurous Women Do

When Hannah Horvath, the 20-something protagonist of the hit HBO show Girls, discovers she has HPV, the first person she consults is not a doctor but her best friend, Marnie. Marnie is, if anything, more upset than Hannah herself and weeps upon hearing the news. “Oh my God,” she says. “What if you can’t have children?”

Later on in the episode, we find out Hannah’s friend Jessa is far more nonchalant attitude towards HPV. She herself has several strains of the virus, as she says “all adventurous women do.”

The reactions of the Girls characters showcase the range of common beliefs about HPV: that it’s extremely serious, that it’s no big deal, and everything in between. But what are the facts? Continue reading “Adventurous Women Do”

Why Don’t People Seek Help for IBS?

Between ten and fifteen percent of the population suffers from IBS, experiencing chronic symptoms like bloating, cramping, constipation, diarrhea, and recurring abdominal pain.

A 2015 survey by the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) found that 67 percent of people with IBS waited more than a year to see a doctor after experiencing symptoms, while 11 percent waited a decade or more.

Why aren’t more people seeking help? In light of IBS Awareness Month, let’s take a look at some of the factors that prevent IBS sufferers from seeking treatment. Continue reading “Why Don’t People Seek Help for IBS?”

Microbiome Awareness Month — Your Emotional Gut

While there are plenty of things you may attribute your mood to – the weather, your job, life in general – have you thought about how your gut microbiome may be influencing your mood?

Researchers suggest that alongside plenty of other aspects of health, your microbiome has a profound effect on the way your mind works. Low levels of certain species of bacteria in your gut could be associated with depression or anxiety. Continue reading “Microbiome Awareness Month — Your Emotional Gut”