Shigella - The Basics

Do you know what a Shigella infection is? Read our basic guide to find out the symptoms to look out for, how to avoid getting it, where to get tested and treatment for the infection.

Image via Public Health England

What is Shigella?

Shigella infection (shigellosis) is an intestinal infection caused by a family of bacteria known as Shigella. Shigella causes severe diarrhoea and is often mistaken for food poisoning. It’s caught from bacteria from the anal area getting into your mouth during sex. Gay and bisexual men are particularly at risk.

What are the symptoms?

You will get diarrhoea lasting more than 48 hours (often with blood in it), normally with stomach cramps and fever. Symptoms usually start within four days of getting infected.

How is it spread?

Shigella is spread very easily. It can be spread through rimming or going from anal to oral among other ways - all it takes is for a tiny amount of bacteria to get into your mouth.

How can I avoid getting Shigella from sex?

  • Wash your hands (anal area and penis too if you can) during and after sex, especially if you’re rimming, fingering or handling used condoms and sex toys.

  • Using condoms for anal sex and latex gloves for fingering or fisting offers protection. A condom can be cut into a square to make a barrier for rimming.

  • Don’t share sex toys or douching equipment.

  • Have a full shower after sex.

What should I do if I think I might have it?

Visit your doctor or a sexual health clinic to get tested, explaining you may have picked up a gut infection from sex, possibly Shigella. The clinician needs to know this so you get the right tests and treatment. A full sexual health check-up is a good idea. You should also drink fluids to stop losing too much water and not go back to work until Shigella infection has been ruled out by a doctor, if work involves handling food or contact with patients.

What happens if I do have a Shigella infection? Shigella infection is easily cured with antibiotics, which your health professional will give you once you test positive. Wait for 48 hours after the symptoms stop before going back to work. You cannot go back to work until given the all clear by a public health official if your work involves handling food or contact with patients. A person with Shigella can be infectious for up to a month. You should wash your hands frequently using warm water and soap for this period. Avoid preparing food for other people and having sex (until a week after symptoms stop), sharing towels and spas/jacuzzis/hot tubs.

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