A little-known sexually transmitted infection could become a superbug within the next 10 years if the way it is diagnosed and treated isn’t changed, experts have warned.
Mycoplasma genitalium (MG) sometimes has no symptoms and often has similar symptoms to Chlamydia, so is often mistaken for it.
But it is more resistant to medication if left untreated, and can cause pelvic inflammatory disease in women that can lead to infertility.
And if the way it’s diagnosed and treated doesn’t change, it could become a superbug – resistant to antibiotics – within a decade, experts have warned.
In a bid to stop that happening, the British Association of Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) has launched new treatment guidelines to help stop MG from becoming untreatable.
But they’re worried that sexual health experts around the country can’t afford the tests recommended by the guidelines and won’t be able to due to budget constraints.
BASHH said it is “extremely concerned” that its guidance won’t be implemented in time to prevent the infection – which currently affects one in 100 people – from becoming a superbug that is resistant to antibiotics.
According to BASHH, 72% of sexual health experts said if current practices do not change, MG infections will become an antibiotic-resistant superbug within a decade.
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Despite this, its research revealed that seven in ten sexual health experts around the country said they couldn’t afford diagnostic tests recommended by the guidelines, and only one in ten UK public health commissioners said they were making provisions for testing equipment in their 2019 budget.
BASHH spokesperson Paddy Horner, who developed the guidelines, said: “MG is treated with antibiotics, but as until recently there has been no commercially available test, it has often been misdiagnosed as Chlamydia and treated as such.”
He added: “This is not curing the infection and is causing antimicrobial resistance in MG patients. If practices do not change and the tests are not used, MG has the potential to become a superbug within a decade, resistant to standard antibiotics.
“The greatest consequence of this is for the women who present with PID caused by MG, which would be very hard to treat, putting them at increased risk of infertility.”
He said the guidelines – which recommend patients with symptoms are correctly diagnosed using an accurate MG test, then treated and followed up to make they’re cured – are an effort to avoid a “public health emergency with the emergence of MG as a superbug”.
“We are asking the government directly to make this funding available to prevent a public health emergency waiting to happen and which is already spiralling out of control.”
BASHH president Dr Olwen Williams said: “It is deeply worrying that only one in 10 service commissioners have made provisions for MG given the very severe consequences of inappropriate management, particularly on young women of a child-bearing age.
“We call on the government urgently to make this funding available and on sexual health experts to ensure they implement these new guidelines.
“By not addressing this issue despite warnings from experts, we are letting down young people in this country.”
Dr Peter Greenhouse, sexual health consultant from Bristol, warned: “MG is rapidly becoming the new ‘superbug’: it’s already increasingly resistant to most of the antibiotics we use to treat Chlamydia and changes its pattern of resistance during treatment so it’s like trying to hit a moving target.
“The new guidelines will be helpful, but unless and until we get funds, so we can regularly test for it, we’ll be in the dark about which women with pelvic inflammatory disease have got it, and about what their true risk of long term complications are. Give us the tools and we’ll get on with the job.”