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This antibiotic-resisting, infertility-causing STI is on the rise—and could be the next superbug


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Photo: Getty Images/Chris-Rogers

Cinnamon essential oil may be one of the most promising ways to take on the world’s most dangerous superbugs, but even that powerful option isn’t a match for an asymptomatic sexually transmitted infection that’s leaving women around the globe at risk of becoming infertile and having premature births. So, um, now’s the time to stock up on condoms if you’re running low.

The British Association of Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) reports that mycoplasma genitalium infections—better known as MGen or MG—could reach superbug-status within the next five years, according to CNN. It’s estimated that 3 percent of the global population already has it, including 400,000 Australian women and 1 to 2 percent of the population in Europe. Though both men and women are at risk, the rates of infection for women are slightly higher (which seems to be the case for many health issues).

Men who go untreated have a 5.5 times higher risk of developing nongonococcal urethritis, or inflammation of the urethra. Women, on the other hand, are 1.7 to 2.5 times more likely to wind up with pelvic inflammatory disease, which can lead to early birth and infertility. BASHH estimates this means as many as 4,800 women in the United Kingdom could become infertile annually as a result of MG.

The majority of people don’t show symptoms of MG, but those who do can easily confuse them for other STIs—particularly chlamydia, which has similar signs, like painful urination and bleeding after sex.

To make matters worse, if you do contract it, there’s a good chance you won’t realize it. The majority of people don’t show symptoms, but those who do can easily confuse them for other STIs—particularly chlamydia, which has similar signs, like painful urination and bleeding after sex. Those similarities are one of the reasons MG is on the path toward becoming a superbug. According to UK-based doctor Mark Lawton, that’s because medical experts who mistakenly treat MG patients for chlamydia are only making the under-diagnosed condition more resistant to antibiotics.

Because of the frequent misdiagnoses, BASHH has released new treatment guidelines that aim to derail MG’s journey to superbug status. “It’s already increasingly resistant to most of the antibiotics we use to treat chlamydia and changes its pattern of resistance during treatment, so it’s like trying to hit a moving target,” says Peter Greenhouse, a UK-based doctor.

After you process this disturbing intel, your initial thought may be to get tested for MG, stat. Unfortunately, doing so isn’t as simple as scheduling an annual gynecologist visit. The heavy cost of the testing deters many UK health facilities from including it in the budget, and it’s not a standard STI test in the United States either, so you have to ask your doc about the availability. One alternative solution is to test yourself through places like myLAB.

It’s not clear yet how many people in the United States are affected by MG, but don’t take your chances. This potential superbug is serious business, and when it comes to protecting your body and your reproductive system, don’t mess around.

Here’s why antibiotic-free “super chickens” might be public health’s newest superheroes. Or, find out how severe cases of stress are linked to higher rates of autoimmune diseases.

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