The UK has seen a sharp rise in an “extremely drug-resistant” strain of the STI shigella among gay and bisexual men, according to a government report.
Although not well-known, a shigella infection, from a bacterium that causes dysentery, can be very serious.
Shigella is transmitted through the accidental ingestion of faecal matter containing the bacteria, such as by licking skin, condoms, toys or fingers that have been contaminated during rimming, fisting, or giving oral sex after anal sex. Even a tiny amount can cause infection.
The infection affects the gut, and can cause severe and long-lasting diarrhoea, stomach cramps and a fever. Because of its symptoms, it is sometimes mistaken for food poisoning.
The symptoms of shigella usually subside within a week, but in some cases hospitalisation is required to administer intravenous antibiotics. Rarely, shigella can spread to the blood and become life-threatening.
On Thursday (27 January), the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) reported that cases have been on the rise among gay and bisexual men,
In the last four months, the agency has recorded 47 cases of the STI, while in the 17-month period between April 2020 and August 2021, there were just 16 cases.
The UKHSA said that “recent cases show resistance to antibiotics is increasing”.
Dr Gauri Godbole, a consultant medical microbiologist at UKHSA, said in a statement: “Practising good hygiene after sex is really important to keep you and your partners safe. Avoid oral sex immediately after anal sex, change condoms between anal or oral sex and wash your hands with soap after sexual contact.”
She said it was vital that men who have sex with men speak to a GP or sexual health clinic if they experience symptoms so they can be tested for shigella, which is usually done via a stool sample.
“Men with shigella may have been exposed to other STIs including HIV, so a sexual health screen at a clinic or ordering tests online is recommended,” Godbole continued.
“If you have been diagnosed with shigella, give yourself time to recover. Keep hydrated and get lots of rest.
“Don’t have sex until seven days after your last symptom and avoid spas, swimming, jacuzzis, hot tubs and sharing towels as well as preparing food for other people until a week after symptoms stop.”