These 4 New STIs to Need to Be On Your Sexual-Health Radar
Or, four new reasons to buy condoms in bulk.
ICYMI, STI rates are out of control. Every year for the last four years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that national numbers are at an all-time high. In 2018, though, it's been more than just the usual offenders being spread far and wide. Earlier this year, cases of both a flesh-eating STI called donovanosis and the highly resistant "super gonorrhea" erupted in the U.K. Now, CNN is reporting there are four new sexually transmitted infections on the rise-thanks to the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis, Mycoplasma genitalium, Shigella flexneri, and Lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV)-which could become serious public health threats if rates continue to soar.
What's with the overload of sexually transmitted infections lately? "Bacteria doesn't have a brain, but they sure know how to survive," says G. Thomas Ruiz, M.D., ob-gyn lead at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA. Eons-old bacteria try to preserve their existence by mutating in ways that'll help them spread more easily. Plus, we happen to be living in a time when bugs have the trifecta of survivability: Bacteria have mutated and our chronic overuse of antibiotics make the antidote less powerful, while our affinity for unprotected sex has created a new mode of transportation for the bugs, explains Dr. Ruiz.
The good news: Most of these new organisms are less common in America (they're more widespread in Asia), and all are treatable with common antibiotics, says Dr. Ruiz. (Note: The latter may not be true for syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia for much longer.)
And, of course, using a condom (!!!) will significantly reduce your chances of contracting any of them (along with every other STI). That said, here's the low down on the four newest STIs.
"Neisseria meningitidis is a very common organism-about 15 percent of the population is colonized with the bacteria," says Dr. Ruiz. It can be really dangerous for susceptible populations-namely teenagers-as it causes meningococcal meningitis, a potentially deadly infection of the brain and spinal cord (that's why you get vaccinated and booster shots in your teens). However, the bacteria doesn't affect or hurt most adults, Dr. Ruiz assures.
The real issue is that it's highly contagious. Scientists determined that the strain of N. meningitidis we see transmitted through sexual contact grabbed DNA through genetic recombination with its close relative, N. gonorrhoeae (which causes gonorrhea) and therefore made the STI spread more efficiently. Traditionally, the bacteria spreads through the air, but as an STI, you could contract the bacteria via oral sex. And even if it doesn't make you sick, you could pass it to someone in close proximity with just a cough, explains Dr. Ruiz. (Here: Everything You Should Know About Oral STDs)
Mycoplasma genitalium, which is transmitted through any form of unprotected sex, is a bigger worry for men. Roughly 20 to 30 percent of male urethritis (inflammation of the urethra) cases stem from this bacteria, and it may even cause infertility in men, according to the CDC. But even among women, if left untreated, M. genitalium can trigger pelvic inflammatory disorder, potentially leading to infertility, miscarriage, premature birth, and even stillbirth, says Dr. Ruiz. Yikes. Oh, and M. genitalium is extremely hard to test for.
However, the bacteria presents very similarly to gonorrhea urethritis and it's treatable with the antibiotics you'd use to treat that STI. "If we see discharge or puss coming from a cervix, we'll treat it with antibiotics-and that'll help regardless of which STI it actually is," says Dr. Ruiz. (FYI: You're More Likely to Catch an STI On Your Period)
Shigella flexneri (aka shigellosis or a shigella infection) is *technically* an STI because the bacteria (traditionally transmitted through feces) can be contracted if you go from anal to oral or anal to vaginal sex. But shigellosis primarily manifests itself as intestinal diarrhea-so you'll really just think you have a stomach bug, says Dr. Ruiz. The bacteria can be deadly for children in third-world countries because they become so dehydrated-but for most American adults, it'll just be a rough week and then back to normal. (See: What the Color of Your Poop Can Tell You About Your Health)
While shigellosis can be treated with antibiotics, most docs suggest you let it run its course since it just attacks the gut and is usually gone within seven days, he says. The exception: Take antibiotics if you work with children or in a nursing home-being around a susceptible population is a reason to clear the bacteria out faster and reduce the chances of spreading it.
Lymphogranuloma venereum (aka LGV), caused by unusual strains of Chlamydia trachomatis, manifests as a genital pimple, blister, or ulcer-and then invades your body's lymphatic system, making you super sick. Even though the STI has become increasingly common in Asia and Africa, it's almost always limited to gay men and is close to nonexistent in America, says Dr. Ruiz. "Most physicians in the U.S. have not seen a case of this, and I've only seen it as pictures in a textbook," he explains. In other words: You, as a woman who lives in the U.S., have little to worry about. Plus, it's treatable with a three-week course of antibiotics, adds Dr. Ruiz.
Even though you may not need to worry too much about LGV, the other three STDs-along with the rampant spread of all the usual suspects-should have you practicing safe sex every damn time you get busy.