‘Concerning’ STI is on the rise in UK – and GP says it’s often brushed off as sick bug

By Staff 6 Min Read

Medical expert Dr Lawrence Cunningham has issued an important warning about a gnarly sexually-transmitted bacterial infection that’s often overlooked as a typical sick bug

A medic has urged Brits to watch out for an unheard-of STI that’s rapidly spreading across the country.

Dr Lawrence Cunningham, a GP at UK Care Guide, has warned of ‘shigella’ – a gnarly bacterial infection that’s easily brushed off as a typical sick bug. This largely thanks to its very unusual symptoms, with the likes of chlamydia and gonorrhoea making themselves known in completely different ways.

“Shigella is a bacteria known to cause an infection called shigellosis, predominantly affecting the intestinal tract,” Dr Cunningham told The Mirror. “[It’s] most commonly transmitted through direct or indirect contact with the faecal matter of an infected person and often through sex-related activities.”

Shigella cases rocketed by 53% in the UK in 2023, according to government statistics, with much of this driven by a cluster of antibiotic-resistant strains referred to as ‘Shigella sonnei’. Current instances are primarily concentrated in London, the North West and South East, with the UK Health Security Agency warning they are ‘difficult to treat’.

Although shigella often spreads through sex, it’s also transmitted when consuming contaminated food or water, according to Dr Cunningham. He continued: “In my experience, it’s a common issue, particularly in settings with poor sanitation.

“In my professional dealings, I’ve observed outbreaks in environments where hygiene practices are compromised, such as in schools, daycare centres, and nursing homes. The primary symptoms include diarrhoea – which can be bloody – fever, and stomach cramps.”

Nausea and vomiting are key red flags of shigella too, which can generally start around one or two days after exposure. Dr Cunningham added: “[It] can be quite severe, leading to significant discomfort and dehydration.”

If you’re worried you might have shigella, going to a GP is always advised. This will usually involve a stool sample test to look for the presence of bacteria, followed by the prescription of antibiotics in severe cases.

While most people recover from shigella within five to seven days, those with more extreme symptoms may experience complications that are trickier to deal with. “In terms of management, hydration is key, and in some cases, antibiotics may be prescribed to help clear the infection,” Dr Cunningham continued.

“In terms of sexual activity, especially regarding anal related sex and oral activity, it’s advisable to refrain from sexual contact while symptoms are present and for at least a week after symptoms cease. This is crucial to prevent the spread of the infection to partners.”

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