Jamaicans are again being urged to protect themselves during sexual intercourse as DNA samples collected from medical labs across the island are showing a new sexually transmitted infection (STI) circulating locally.
Compton Beecher, who is the chief DNA analyst at the Caribbean Genetics (CARIGEN), has found that a number of Jamaican men and women have unknowingly contracted Mycoplasma genitalium, which often does not show any symptoms until later in life.
If left untreated, this STI can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, pain during sex, burning sensations while urinating and reoccurring infections.
"The frightening thing is that we are seeing so much of it and it is something that we don't normally look for," said Beecher, who has been a forensic scientist for more than 20 years.
CARIGEN is owned by the University of the West Indies. It processes samples collected from a number of medical facilities across the island and is one of the few - if not the only one - private facilities in the region with the technology to do DNA testing.
It was while checking these samples for other STIs, such as gonorrhoea and chlamydia, that the centre detected Mycoplasma genitalium.
"Even for persons who don't show any symptoms now, later on is when you feel it; when it comes to not being able to have a child; when it comes to pelvic inflammatory disease in the case of the women; when it comes to infections in the case of the men," he said.
"It's kind of frightening, to be honest with you. We tend not to think about these things. I mean, you get into something, then after a while you are comfortable and you throw off the condom and whatever protection you might be using and you think that everything is okay; it is not," insisted the forensic scientist.
Chairperson of the National Family Planning Board (NFPB), Dr Sandra Knight, admits that Mycoplasma genitalium has not been a focus for her organisation which has responsibility for
the country's HIV/STI control programme.
"We have not focused on it because the diagnostic tests are costly, and in the Jamaican public health system, it is not done. Nevertheless, any institution in the country that collects data like that, it is of extreme value, because you usually see Mycoplasma when you have a significant interaction via anal sex.
"Now, we are not talking about same sex anal sex only, we are talking about anal sex between man and woman also," said Dr Knight.
What is Mycoplasma genitalium?
- This is a sexually transmissible infection caused by bacteria. Both men and women can become infected.
- In men, Mycoplasma can infect the inside lining of the penis (urethra).
- In women, Mycoplasma can infect the neck of the womb (cervix) and possibly the womb (uterus) itself and fallopian tubes.
- There is no evidence it can infect the throat of women or men.
How Is It Transmitted?
Mycoplasma can be passed from one person to another during vaginal sexual intercourse or foreplay (genital touching or rubbing).
Are There Any Symptoms?
Men might notice
- Discharge from the penis
- Burning pain or irritation when urinating
- Unusual vaginal discharge
- Pain during sex
- Bleeding after sex and between periods
- Lower pelvic pain
Some women and men may have NO symptoms.
How Is It Treated?
Mycoplasma should be treated with antibiotics. The antibiotics may be a single dose or a longer course. Repeat courses of treatment may be necessary.
It is important that you avoid sex for seven days after starting treatment. This is to prevent you infecting others or them reinfecting you.
When Can I Have Unprotected Sex Again?
- A negative test after 1 month indicates you have cleared the infection. Avoid unprotected sex until your repeat test is negative.
- Until this second test is negative, use condoms 100% of the time, or don't have sex at all.
- If the repeat test is positive again, you will need more treatment.
- However, use condoms with all new and casual partners or you can be reinfected with Mycoplasma.