Antibiotic-Resistant STI Mycoplasma Genitalium May Soon Be as Great a Health Risk as Chlamydia
A sexually transmitted disease that may be infecting up to 700,000 Australians without them knowing is becoming so resistant to treatment it may soon become as great a health risk as chlamydia, doctors have warned.
Mycoplasma genitalium is developing resistance to antibiotics at what health professionals say is an alarming rate.
Much like chlamydia, many people do not know when they have it, but it can increase the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease, urethritis and spontaneous abortion in those infected.
Health groups have raised the alarm at the disease’s ability to develop a strong resistance to antibiotics, particularly the drug azithromycin, which until recently had been a reliable defence.
“It’s a bug that’s intrinsically hard to treat and it’s developing a resistance at [an] alarming rate to the few drugs that we have been able to use to treat it,” Associate Professor Catriona Bradshaw from the Melbourne Sexual Health Clinic said.
“Azithromycin worked extremely well for mycoplasma genitalium, until about 10 years ago when we got the first treatment failures in Melbourne,” she said.
“Things changed very fast over the last decade, we are now at the point where over 50 per cent of cases have resistance, and as high as 80 per cent in men who have sex with men.”
Confusion around Treatment
Compounding the concern around how to manage the disease is confusion among doctors about the most effective treatment method, according to general practitioner Dr Ben Jarvis.
“If I ask three doctors how they treat mycoplasma genitalium, I will get six answers,” he said.
“There are lots of different treatment algorithms out there and I’m not too sure which one is the best to be honest.”
Dr Jarvis said it was difficult for patients when the treatment was not working.
“They ask me all these questions around why there’s so much contention around the antibiotics, everything’s different online and which ones [they] should be used,” he said.
“They ask us the questions and we should know the answers, and frankly we don’t have the answers about which antibiotics are the best.”
Young Australians Not Getting the Message
Sexual health physician Dr Lewis Marshall believes many young Australians are still putting themselves at risk by not practising safe sex.
“I don’t think that safe-sex message is getting through to young people and it’s young people that tend to get these STIs because they are the ones who tend to have most partner change,” he said.
“Gonorrhoea particularly is very concerning, it’s still not at the rates of chlamydia but [it has] increased quite significantly over the last few years.
“When we are looking at things like gonorrhoea and chlamydia and mycoplasma, condom use is still the mainstay of prevention.”
Professor Bradshaw and Dr Marshall are both part of a team working to change the national guidelines on how to treat mycoplasma genitalium, which will be released early next year.