British Doctors Warn This Sexually Transmitted Infection Could be the Next Untreatable Superbug

British doctors are warning about a sexually transmitted infection that could become the next hard-to-treat superbug, thanks to its increasing resistance to traditional antibiotics. They say that the infection, called Mycoplasma genitalium (also known as M. genitalium or simply MG), can cause urinary problems in men and infertility in women, but many Europeans—and Americans—have never even heard of it.

According to the BBC, the British Association of Sexual Health and HIV—a professional organization of U.K. doctors and health care professionals—has issued draft guidelines for “how best to spot and treat MG.” The infection can often be missed or misdiagnosed by both patients and doctors, doctors say.

To learn more about this sneaky STI, we spoke with Lisa Manhart, PhD, professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington, who’s been researching MG for more than 15 years. Here’s what she wants everyone to know.

What is Mycoplasma genitalium?

MG is a bacterium that was first identified in the early 1980s. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), MG has been recognized as a cause of male urethritis, or inflammation of the urethra. This condition can lead to discharge from the penis and pain when urinating.

“The evidence that M. genitalium causes problems in men is very good, and people accept that worldwide,” says Manhart. “But not as many studies have been done in women, and there’s still a little bit of debate, depending on where you live and who you talk to, about how much of a problem it is in women.”

In women, studies have shown that MG is associated with inflammation of the cervix, pelvic inflammatory disease, pre-term delivery, and infertility, says Manhart. “But there’s a difference between people who have a certain condition also having the infection, and being able to say that the infection actually caused the condition,” she adds.

According to the CDC, which first included information about MG in its Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines in 2015, MG is more common than gonorrhea but less common than chlamydia. It’s estimated that about 2% to 4% of the U.S. population has MG, says Manhart, compared to about 0.5% for gonorrhea and about 4% for chlamydia.

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SOURCE: PEOPLE, Amanda MacMillan