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The dangerous Shigella infection breaking out in clusters across Europe, with Ireland being one

A wave of gastroenteritis infections that are resistant to antibiotics is increasing in Europe, new figures suggest.

In the three months since April, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has received reports of 203 cases of shigellosis caused by the Shigella bacteria. This is approximately equal to the total recorded between November 2021 and February 2023.

The disease has been around for a while, causing extreme diarrhoea, fever, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps, with 95 British cases since 2021.

According to the ECDC, all strains associated with these instances are resistant to first- and second-line antibiotics, which are treatments doctors like to prescribe first since they have a reduced risk of side effects.

Some strains can still be treated with azithromycin, a popular antibiotic. Other strains, however, are resistant to it, causing ‘special worry’ since it ‘limits the possibilities of effective treatment’ the ECDC said.

The European cases reported since April are restricted to Belgium (26), Denmark (13), Germany (33), Ireland (50), the Netherlands (21), and Spain (more than 60).

These recent cases are ‘largely, but not exclusively’ among men who have sex with men, as per the ECDC.

Ireland’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) updated its instructions for public health teams earlier this week to assist them respond to situations more efficiently.

Clusters of the germ are presently proliferating among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, according to the report. A national multi-sectoral response team was formed in Ireland in 2023 to respond to increases in clusters found in this group. This organisation collaborates with the Gay Health Network and MPOWER at HIV Ireland to promote awareness of the issue, what to do if symptoms arise, and specific steps that people may take to lower their risk of infection.

Shigellosis, on the other hand, can be caught by intimate contact, and by consuming infected food and drink, overseas travellers are at risk of developing it.

“The best way to protect yourself against shigellosis is to ensure that you wash your hands regularly and take care when preparing food,” the HPSC added.

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