GPs warned not to test gay men for ‘super STI’ because it ‘could make things worse’

Patrick Kelleher
·2-min read

GPs are being warned to stop carrying out routine testing of queer men for a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) as fears grow about antibiotic resistance.

Mycoplasma genitalium (MG) is a common STI that can present with or without symptoms in men. When a man is symptomatic, he might experience a stinging or burning sensation during urination.

A research paper, published in EClinical Medicine, found that prevalence of the STI in queer men would decrease from 9.1 per cent to 6.4 per cent if doctors were to carry out routine testing.

However, the study warned that doctors should avoid carrying out routine testing for the infection because it could lead to even greater antibiotic resistance.

Professor Jason Ong was lead author on the study, which analysed MG transmission among men who had screenings at the Melbourne Sexual Health Clinic in Australia.

He told The Guardian: “It might reduce the prevalence a little bit and control the burden of the disease in the community, but actually it makes things worse because the end product of a lot of screenings is we will build a lot of resistance,” he said.

“We are not just seeing this in our modelling work, but in real life.”

Mycoplasma genitalium is notoriously resistant to antibiotics, Ong said. Fifteen years ago between 10 and 20 per cent of people presenting with the infection at the Melbourne Sexual Health Clinic struggled with antibiotic resistance. Today, that number stand at between 80 to 90 per cent.

The result is that mycoplasma genitalium has become increasingly difficult to treat through antibiotics, leading researchers to recommend that asymptomatic queer men not be tested or treated.

“We’ve got antibiotics out there and they are really useful but it’s a finite resource because once a bug becomes resistant then we’ve basically lost that antibiotic, so we have to use our antibiotics very wisely,” he explained.

Professor Basil Donovan told The Guardian that the infection should not be a concern to asymptomatic gay men.

“It’s not such a concern in gay men, as long as their infection isn’t in the urethra, and they’re not having sex with women, it’s got no consequences for people’s fertility.”