A little-known but increasingly common sexually-transmitted infection could become the next superbug, experts have warned. Mycoplasma Genitalium (MG) can be easily missed by those who have it, therefore leading to infertility in women.
To raise awareness of the STI, the British Association of Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) has launched draft guidelines for the treatment and diagnosis of MG, which recommend a specific diagnostic test. It also tells people how best to spot the disease.
“These new guidelines have been developed, because we can’t afford to continue with the approach we have followed for the past 15 years as this will undoubtedly lead to a public health emergency with the emergence of MG as a superbug,” said Paddy Horner, who co-wrote the guidelines.
What is Mycoplasma Genitalium (MG)?
The infection has been around since the 1980s, but was discovered as a sexually-transmitted infection (STI) in November 2015 after a study found a link between the bacteria and having sex. The study concluded that for both men and women, MG was strongly associated with an increased number of total and new partners and unsafe sex. No infections were detected in those reporting no previous sexual experience.
Mycoplasmas are small, free-living micro-organisms. The infection is a bacteria that in men, causes inflammation of the urethra and in women, can cause inflammation of the reproductive organs (womb and fallopian tubes), causing pain during sex and some bleeding.
Other symptoms for men and women include discharge and dysuria (painful or difficult urination). It is passed on by having unprotected sex with someone who has the infection, so wearing condoms will prevent you from getting the infection.
MG does not always cause symptoms and will not always need treatment, but it can be missed or mistaken for a different sexually transmitted infection, such as Chlamydia.
Can you be tested for it?
Diagnosing MG is achieved through a nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT). The NHS states that tests for this condition have only recently been developed and are not available in all clinics yet. Doctors can send samples to Public Health England’s laboratory to get a diagnostic result. “If you can’t be tested, you will be treated as though you might have it,” the NHS states on their website.
When questioning public health commissioners in England, BASHH found only one in 10 plan to provide the appropriate testing for MG in their local areas next year. In their guidelines, BASHH are calling for patients to be diagnosed using an accurate MG test, then followed up to make sure they are treated correctly.
Horner argued that these resources are “urgently” needed to ensure there is testing available for women who are at high risk of infertility.
“By not addressing this issue despite warnings from experts, we are letting down young people in this country."”
Is it treatable?
Absolutely, MG can be treated with antibiotics. It is best treated by a course of the antibiotic doxycycline, followed by a course of azithromycin. It can also be treated by an antibiotic called macrolides, however there are concerns the infection is reportedly developing resistance to this.
Dr Olwen Williams, president of BASHH, said more people need to be aware of the disease because of the impact it has on fertility. “We call on the government urgently to this funding available and on sexual health experts to ensure they implement these new guidelines,” she said, according to the Telegraph. “By not addressing this issue despite warnings from experts, we are letting down young people in this country.”
You can read BASHH’s full draft guidelines here.