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Blurry image of a naked man with an inset of a microscope view of mycoplasma genitalium.

A new STI that should make you want to use condoms

There’s a recently discovered sexually transmitted infection called Mycoplasma genitalium. It was first discovered in 1980, but researchers weren’t even sure it was an STI for several years. It is extremely small and difficult to culture, and there are no approved tests to detect it.

Some of the challenges scientists have faced with Mycoplasma genitalium are similar to the story of the blind men and the elephant. But unlike the elephant, which is one of the largest living creatures, this new STI is one of the smallest living organisms ever discovered. It has the shortest genetic code of any single-cell organism that is capable of self-replication, yet it can cause a man’s urethra to become chronically inflamed and make his penis constantly drip. Or it may be able to attach to a sperm and get a free ride up a woman’s fallopian tubes where it could possibly give her pelvic inflammatory disease.

A considerable problem in treating Mycoplasma genitalium is that it doesn’t have a cell wall. Most antibiotics work by attacking a protein in the bacteria’s cell wall. So if there’s no cell wall, there are fewer ways to kill the bacteria. Drinking a Slurpee at 7-11 would be as effective in fighting this bacteria as most front line antibiotics.

Another problem is how this new STI is quickly becoming resistant to the few treatments we do have. So if you are having casual sex or you are not exclusive, be sure to use condoms.

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