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Original research
Molecular epidemiological analysis of Mycoplasma genitalium shows low prevalence of azithromycin resistance and a well-established epidemic in South Africa


Objectives Macrolide resistance in Mycoplasma genitalium is emerging globally. There is paucity of data from sub-Saharan Africa where syndromic management is used to treat sexually transmitted infections (STIs). We conducted a molecular epidemiological study to determine the prevalence of azithromycin resistance and epidemic diversity of M. genitalium infections in South Africa.

Methods We analysed 90 M. genitalium-positive specimens that had been collected consecutively from men and women (50% symptomatic) from geographically diverse communities across the northern part of South Africa between 2015 and 2019. Melting curve analysis followed by targeted sequencing of the 23S rRNA gene was performed to detect azithromycin resistance. Molecular typing was done through single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) analysis of the MG191 gene and short tandem repeats (STR) assessment of the MG309 gene. An overview of all published M. genitalium sequence types was generated and novel sequence types identified in this study were allocated numbers accordingly.

Results Azithromycin resistance was detected in 1/90 M. genitalium-positive specimens (1.1%; 95% CI 0% to 3.3%) as conferred by A2071G mutation; this strain also harboured a C234T mutation in the parC gene with wild type gyrA gene. SNP typing and STR assessment was successful in 38/90 specimens (42%) and showed a genetically diverse epidemic, without geographic clustering, with eight novel sequence types identified.

Conclusion This is the first study that determines resistance in M. genitalium infection since introduction of azithromycin in the syndromic management regimen for STIs in South Africa in 2015. Despite a well-established epidemic, azithromycin-resistant M. genitalium infection is still uncommon in the public healthcare sector. However, it has the potential to undermine the effectiveness of syndromic management. Introduction of molecular diagnostics and continuous surveillance are warranted for early detection emergence of resistance.

  • mycoplasma
  • molecular epidemiology
  • azithromycin
  • molecular typing
  • Africa

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