Mycoplasma genitalium (MG): what it is and why doctors are worried

Health experts fear the hard-to-diagnose STI may become the next ‘superbug’

(Image credit: Chris Jackson – Pool/Getty Images)

Doctors are warning that a little-known but increasingly common sexually transmitted infection is in danger of becoming a superbug that could leave thousands of women infertile.

First identified in the 1980s, mycoplasma genitalium (MG) is difficult to diagnose because it causes few or no symptoms, but the complications can be dangerous. It is currently estimated to affect one in a 100 people, reports the Daily Mirror.

What is MG?

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Mycoplasma genitalium is a bacterium that can cause inflammation of the urethra in men, and inflammation of the reproductive organs (womb and fallopian tubes) in women.

The few symptoms are similar to chlamydia, but MG is more resistant to treatment. It has been found in women with pelvic inflammatory disease, which can lead to infertility.

Though symptoms are rare, they can include a burning sensation when urinating and pain or bleeding during and after sex. In men, the symptoms include include watery discharge from the penis.

MG is spread by having sex without a condom with an infected person.

Why is it so dangerous?

“Potentially up to 3,000 women a year over the next ten years could become infertile because of MG leading to pelvic inflammatory disease,” said Dr Olwen Williams, president of the British Association of Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH).

The association has “launched new guidelines for the treatment and diagnosis of the disease, which recommend a specific diagnostic test: a nucleic acid amplification test”, reports the The Daily Telegraph. However, the results of a recent survey suggests that just one in ten sexual health services plan to fund the testing within the next financial year.

Another problem is that the disease is being misdiagnosed, with patients mistakenly given antibiotics for chlamydia.

Dr Paddy Horner, consultant senior lecturer in sexual health at Bristol University and one of the authors of the new guidelines, said: “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.”

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