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Tuesday 28 March 2023 Dublin: 8°C
# Shigella
HSE 'very closely' monitoring infectious disease mainly affecting gay and bisexual men
UK health officials issued a warning over Shigella last week.

THE HSE HAS said it is “monitoring very closely” a highly infectious disease mainly affecting members of the LGBTQ community.

Shigellosis, also known as Shigella, is a stomach bug primarily found in gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men (MSM).

It is a gut infection that causes diarrhoea, stomach cramps and fever. 

The HSE told The Journal that the bug, which can be mistaken for food poisoning, has been a “significant challenge in Ireland” in recent years, even though numbers remain relatively low.

“The bacteria identified are often resistant to many antibiotics,” the HSE said in a statement. 

It follows a warning by UK health officials over the infection.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said it has seen an increase in cases of Shigella, with 47 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 agency said it has been following the strain since 2018 “but recent cases show resistance to antibiotics is increasing” and it considers it now “extremely antibiotic-resistant”. 

Shigella is a bacterium that causes severe stomach upset and is passed on through infected faeces, so therefore can be passed on via sex. 

Only a very small amount of the bacteria is needed to cause infection, according to LGBTQ health resource which notes that poor hygiene such as not washing hands can contribute to the spread of the disease.

The website, which is administered by the Gay Health Network (GHN) in conjunction with the HSE, notes that the number of cases of “sexually acquired Shigella has increased in MSM in the recent past” in Ireland and in Europe overall.

Padraig Burke, communications director for the Gay Health Network, told The Journal that the organisation is awaiting the results of the HSE’s monitoring. 

Preventive measures 

In the meantime, the group is encouraging people to get educated on shigella and to practice safe sex.

 ”When the monitoring is done and findings are made we’ll move on it and know what to do.”

“But condoms offer protection against most sexually transmitted diseases – including HIV – so if they can be used they should be used.

“Our advice to people would be get tested as well. Things are opening up (following a spike in Covid-19) so if people are having sex and they haven’t been tested for a while, they should get tested.”

In its statement, the HSE said Shigella is a notifiable disease and infection with shigella is monitored very closely in Ireland.

It detailed the efforts taken when infections are notified, which include the bacteria from cases being sent to a national reference laboratory so that the infection can be fully DNA sequenced.

This helps to identify evidence of spread and to track antibiotic resistance.

“The reference laboratory, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre and Public Health Departments work together to detect and manage outbreaks of shigella infection.

“For some years now the issue of shigella infection in the gbMSM community has been a significant challenge in Ireland as in other countries.”

It added that there has been significant engagement with the community to raise awareness of this risk in the context of outbreaks of infection that occurred prior to the pandemic.

If you’d like further information on free condoms that can be found here

Information on sexual health tests can be found here and here
With reporting by PA

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