NSW Shigella outbreak worsens
An outbreak of Shigella that started in February of this year has continued unabated, causing NSW Health’s Communicable Diseases Branch and ACON to step up efforts to combat the outbreak.
The gut infection has been particularly rife within the gay community and there are concerns the outbreak could worsen if people with mild symptoms fail to contact their doctor for treatment. Recently several people were hospitalised after developing a drug resistant strain of the infection.
Shigella is a bacteria that causes a bowel infection. Symptoms include stomach cramps, diarrhoea, fever and nausea. The infection is transmitted through faeces and can appear any time between 12 hours and four days after exposure and generally lasts between four and seven days.
Infection can occur via sexual contact particularly in practices such as rimming. ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill says 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.”
“The disease can be worse in anyone with a poor immune system, such as people with HIV who are more likely to have severe symptoms which may result in a prolonged illness and even hospitalisation.
Avoiding infection is relatively simple. The most effective way to reduce the risk of contracting shigella is to wash hands thoroughly after any sexual activity, after touching equipment like used condoms and sex toys, after going to the toilet or before handling food.
Parkhill says anyone who has severe diarrhoea should see their GP, so they can be assessed. “Their doctor may order a faecal test and prescribe medication.”
Treatment for Shigella is a course of antibiotics. Without antibiotic treatment you can remain infectious even weeks after the symptoms have passed. To avoid the spread of infection, gay men should avoid sexual contact for a week after symptoms pass.