Public health officials are warning of a rise in extremely antibiotic-resistant Shigella sonnei infections, mainly in men who have sex with men.
Surveillance data collected by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) found 47 cases of Shigella in a four-month period between September and January compared with 16 cases in the previous 17 months.
UKHSA said it had been following the strain of the gut infection since 2018, but recent cases suggest that resistance to antibiotics is increasing.
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 only a tiny amount of bacteria can spread the infection.
Sex that may involve anal contact or contact with faeces is one way that the infection can spread, UKHSA said and symptoms are commonly mistaken for food poisoning.
Dr Gauri Godbole, consultant medical microbiologist at UKHSA, said: ‘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 added: ‘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.’
The news comes as a recent study showed that GPs practicing under pressure are more likely to prescribe broad-spectrum antibiotics.