Health experts are warning gay men to be cautious in anticipation of an outbreak of multidrug-resistant strain of Shigella in NSW.
And it is not just NSW that has seen the concerning trend either. Around the country, the number of drug-resistant species almost quadrupled from nine to 33, according to the last two years of antibiotic resistance notification data published by Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care.
While most individuals can recover relatively easily from the infection, which can cause diarrhoea, vomiting and fever, immunocompromised individuals, such as people with HIV, are at risk of a more severe illness.
Those with more severe illness typically visit their doctor for testing and antibiotic treatment.
Representatives from NSW Health have now revealed that one in every three shigellosis cases in the last year had shown multidrug resistance. For these patients, hospitalisation and intravenous antibiotics may be necessary.
The number of Shigella notifications so far has been small at only 91, but the state’s medical epidemiologist Dr Christine Selvey said this was likely to be an underestimate, given most infected individuals recovered without medical intervention.
Health experts have warned that Shigella is highly infectious and easily spread through microscopic particles of faeces entering 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,” Nicolas Parkhill, CEO of the HIV prevention and LGBTI health organisation ACON, said in a statement.
Experts recommend thoroughly washing hands and equipment such as sex toys after sex and before handling food.
Symptoms typically manifest within 12 hours to four days and can last up to a week. Health experts recommend patients avoid having sex while they are symptomatic and for at least a week afterwards.
There is some good news though. National notification data reveals that reports of multidrug-resistant Shigella species reached their zenith late last year and early this year. Since then the rate of reports seems to have declined.