Some previously rare STDs are now seemingly turning into an actual health threat and Neisseria meningitides (NM) is one of them. NM is the bacterium that causes a potentially life-threatening central nervous system condition. Recent research, however, shows that this particular bacterium has evolved to start causing a STD.
Are you at risk of being infected with NM, what are the symptoms and some of the main ways to protect yourself?
What Is NM?
Neisseria meningitidis are gram-negative diplococci that are known to cause a very serious medical condition – bacterial meningitis.
NM causes the protective membranes of the brain and the spinal cord to swell, leading to an array of symptoms. Some of the first signs of bacterial meningitis include fever, headaches, neck stiffness and altered consciousness.
You may be wondering how a bacterium affecting the central nervous system is linked to the reproductive system. Recent research has some of the answers for you.
Studies show that the NM bacteria have evolved and adapted to survive in the genitals, which means that it has changed significantly from its predecessor. This also makes it easy for NM to spread from one person to another through unprotected sexual contact. NM is closely related to the bacterium that contributes to another common STD – Neisseria gonorrhoeae – the cause of gonorrhoea. Medical researchers believe that similarities in structure make the two bacteria so likely to cross from one individual to another via sexual contact.
It’s interesting to point out that meningococcal vaccines that most of the world’s population do include NM. Still, one in 10 people have colonies of the bacterium living in their body. More specifically, NM can inhabit the back of the throat. This means, as you’ve probably guessed already, that the fact makes oral sex another risky behaviour likely to contribute to the spread of the pathogen.
The History of Neisseria Meningitidis STD Infections
Some studies on the sexually transmittable nature of NM have been carried as far back as the 1970s. Still, at the time, that specific method of transfer was not seen as a major cause of concern.
Approximately five to 10 per cent of people carry NM in their nose or the back of the throat. These people, however, are completely asymptomatic and they’re not going to get sick or develop meningitis in their lifetime.
Through kissing and oral sex, however, these individuals can pass the bacterium on to a partner. When this happens, the newly infected individual can also remain asymptomatic, they can develop the symptoms of urogenital infection or they could progress to full-blown bacterial meningitis.
Recently, scientists have reported serious outbreaks of NM among gay men and bisexuals in Europe, the United States and Canada. Studies on the sexually transmittable nature of the bacterium are still in their infancy. Hence, medical professionals cannot pinpoint the one method that’s most likely to pass the bacterium from a person to another.
Through the research, it has been established that in 2015 the NM bacterium went through genetic recombination. This means it acquired some DNA from its cousin – Neisseria gonorrhoeae to turn NM into a more serious STI. In 2015, multiple cities in the US were hit by high rates of infection that prompted the brand new research and the discovery.
Five different types of the NM bacterium cause the largest percentage of infections worldwide. The good news is that vaccines exist against all five of these strains and can offer reliable protection.
Should You Worry about NM?
It’s important to understand one thing – getting NM doesn’t mean you’ll develop bacterial meningitis. The manner in which the bacterium has mutated makes it more likely to give you an unpleasant urinary tract infection and some other symptoms reminiscent to those of gonorrhoea.
The new bacterial strain has adapted primarily for survival in the genital and urinary tracts. Hence, it will probably remain there. This fact, however, doesn’t mean that the new strain of NM is incapable of doing harm.
Through its evolution, NM has “learned” how to attach itself to mucous membranes and how to survive in parts of the body that are oxygen-deprived.
Luckily, the change of the bacterium has made it susceptible to the medications used for the treatment of gonorrhoea. A round of antibiotics will usually be sufficient to eradicate the microorganism and clear all of the symptoms.
Protecting Yourself from NM
Safe and responsible sexual practices are in the heart of all forms of STD prevention.
NM is far from an exception from the general rule.
Your best course of action is to have protected sex in a committed, monogamous relationship. The use of barrier contraceptives like condoms can help you reduce the spread of bacteria and viruses responsible for STDs.
Regular STD testing is also very important. This is especially crucial for individuals who engage in risky sexual behaviours like people that go for unprotected intercourse or those who change their sexual partners frequently.
Singapore specialised STD clinics like Shim Clinic give everyone access to secure and reliable STD testing services. We can also consult you on safe practices and being responsible towards yourself and your partner.
If you’re considering getting tested or you’d like to learn more about the most common (and some of the uncommon) types of STDs, you can contact Shim Clinic.