Health officials have issued a warning over an “extremely antibiotic-resistant” infection mainly affecting gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said there has been an increase in cases of Shigella sonnei, which is highly infectious.
Some 47 cases were reported in the four-month period between September 2021 and January 2022, compared with just 16 cases in the previous 17 months (April 2020 to August 2021).
The organisation said it has been following the strain, which can be mistaken for food poisoning, since 2018 “but recent cases show resistance to antibiotics is increasing”.
Antibiotic resistance happens when germs such as bacteria and fungi develop the ability to defeat the drugs used to treat them.
This means the bacteria is not killed off and continues to grow.
According to the UKHSA, Shigella is a gut infection that causes diarrhoea (sometimes mixed with blood), stomach cramps and fever.
It is caused by bacteria found in faeces and can therefore be spread through sex.
The UKHSA said: “It is passed on through the faecal-oral route during sex, either directly or via unwashed hands, and only a tiny amount of bacteria can spread the infection.”
Symptoms usually occur one to four days after the infection is picked up and it is often mistaken for food poisoning.
Most cases will subside within a week, but some people need hospital treatment with intravenous antibiotics, though they are limited due to its antibiotic resistance.
It’s important that gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men do not dismiss their symptomsDr Gauri Godbole, UKHSA
Dr Gauri Godbole, consultant medical microbiologist at UKHSA, said: “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.
“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.
“Men with Shigella may have been exposed to other STIs (sexually-transmitted infections) including HIV, so a sexual health screen at a clinic or ordering tests online is recommended.
“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.”