One day in November of 2015I checked my Information alerts to find Email after Email with headlines Such as the following:
“MG, the Most Recent STD On The Block, Found In Over 1% Of The Population” – Medical Daily
“‘New’ sexually transmitted infection’MG’ could be widespread” – NHS Alternatives
“New STD often with no symptoms could affect hundreds of thousands of adults in Britain” – The Mirror
“Scientists recognize new STD that may affect hundreds of thousands of adults – and it frequently has NO symptoms” – The Daily Mail”
“tens of thousands may already be infected by new sexual disease” – The Daily Telegraph
Despite all that hype,”MG” is not a brand new STD. It’s just shorthand for mycoplasma genitalium. Mycoplasma have been known about for years, although it wasn’t apparent until recently the function they play in states like bacterial vaginosis and non-gonococcal urethritis.
The headlines and the hype are now an interesting case-study in how little men and women know about sexually transmitted diseases. For example, the implication that”MG” is remarkably stealthy is false. Many, if not most, STDs have no symptoms in the vast majority of the people they infect. It’s one of the reasons STDs are known as the hidden outbreak.
Likewise,”over 1% of the population,” isn’t actually that common for an STD.
Viral infections like genital herpes and HPV are present in much greater percentages of the sexually active people. At the U.S., for example, prevalence estimates for those ailments are 16 percent and 5-6 percent (down from 11-12 percent at the pre-vaccine era) respectively. That puts”over 1%” into perspective
That isn’t to downplay the value of the UK data. The simple fact that mycoplasma is a common bacterial disease is useful information. So was the data more clearly linking it into sexual activity, as it adds to the evidence that the mycoplasma is sexually transmitted. That said, the reporting is over the top.
My hope is that the hype will enhance screening and treatment possibilities available to everyone. But it’s also the perfect illustration of how suspicious science reporting/headline writing can make the sense of a panic where none is justified.
The headline I believe should be coming out in response to this”MG” hysteria is this.
Reporting on’MG’ shows that most people are not aware of how common STDs are – Lack of symptoms leads to lack of consciousness.