Health experts in New South Wales have warned of an outbreak of a multi-drug-resistant strain of Shigella among gay men around the state.
Shigella is a bacteria that causes a bowel infection which can result in vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhoea, fever and nausea.
ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill said infection takes place when tiny particles of contaminated faeces enter the mouth.
“This can happen through sexual contact such as rimming, by getting infected faeces on your fingers and then touching your mouth or by putting contaminated objects like food, pens and cigarettes into your mouth,” he said.
“If you experience symptoms, it’s important that you see your doctor so you can get tested and be treated.”
Symptoms can appear between 12 hours and four days after exposure, and can last between four and seven days.
In most cases, Shigella disappears without treatment other than rehydration and rest but antibiotics are needed if symptoms are severe.
There have been cases of a multidrug-resistant strain of the bacteria reported in NSW which means no recommended oral antibiotics are effective as treatment. In these cases intravenous antibiotics given in hospital is usually recommended.
NSW Health Medical Epidemiologist Dr Christine Selvey said there had been 91 cases of shigellosis notifications in NSW from November 2017 to April 2018, with 31 per cent of infections demonstrating multi-drug resistance.
“However, it is likely the notifications aren’t reflective of the actual number of people with the infection, as many people sick with Shigella will recover without seeing a doctor or getting tested,” Dr Selvey said.
“We want gay men to be aware of ways that can reduce the risk of getting and spreading Shigella.
“The most effective way is to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after any sexual activity, touching equipment like used condoms and sex toys, going to the toilet, and before handling food.”
Positive Life CEO Craig Cooper said people living with HIV may experience a more severe illness.
“The symptoms of Shigella can be worse for people with compromised immune systems, such as those with HIV, and this may result in hospitalisation,” he said.
People should avoid sex while they have symptoms and for at least seven days after the symptoms clear.