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Warning for UK gay and bi men over 'extremely' antibiotic-resistant strain of Shigella

The UK has recorded a spike in cases of a difficult-to-treat strain of the intestinal infection.

2022-01-27

Words: Alastair James; pictures: Pexels 

The UK Health Security Agency is urging people to take care following a rise in cases of what it says is an "extremely antibiotic-resistant" form of Shigella among gay and bisexual men. 

The gut infection, which is caused by bacteria found in faeces, causes diarrhoea, which is sometimes mixed with blood, stomach cramps, and a fever. It can be passed on through sex between people practicing anal and oral sex, either directly or via unwashed hands.

The UKHSA says there were 47 cases in the four months between September 2021 and January of this year. There were 16 cases between April 2020 and August 2021.

"Practising good hygiene after sex is really important"

A statement from organisation says it has been following this strain since 2018 but has only recently shown some resistance to antibiotics. 

Only a tiny amount of bacteria can spread the infection and symptoms typically occur between one and four days after exposure and are commonly mistaken for food poisoning. 

While unpleasant, most cases disappear within a week, but some individuals need hospitalisation and require intravenous antibiotic treatment.

The UKHSA says effective antibiotic treatments are limited for this extremely resistant strain.

Dr. Gauri Godbole, a Consultant Medical Microbiologist at the UKHSA says, "Practising good hygiene after sex is really important to keep you and your partners safe. Avoid oral sex immediately after anal sex, and change condoms between anal or oral sex and wash your hands with soap after sexual contact.

Dr. Godbole continues, "It’s important that gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men do not dismiss their symptoms and speak to their GP or sexual health clinic, mentioning Shigella, if they are unwell."

She advises that men with Shigella may also have been exposed to other STIs including HIV, so recommends men having a sexual health screen at a clinic or ordering tests online.

For those diagnosed with Shigella, they are being advised to stay hydrated and rest. They are also advised not to have sex until seven days after their last symptoms have gone and to also avoid spas, swimming, jacuzzis, hot tubs, and sharing towels as well as preparing food for other people until a week after symptoms stop.

People can get more information about Shigella and on other topics at Sexwise or by calling the free National Sexual Health Helpline at 0300 123 7123.

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