Shigella is a bacteria that causes severe stomach upset. Infection can be treated with a course of antibiotics. It is passed on through infected faeces (poo) - this can be through contaminated food or sexually.
Symptoms of shigellosis:
Although some people experience no symptoms, shigella may cause diarrhoea and stomach cramps.
In more serious cases diarrhoea can be severe and may contain blood or mucus (this is also known as 'dysentery').
You might also have a fever and experience nausea or vomiting as well as stomach cramps.
Symptoms usually start a day or two after becoming infected and last up to a week.
What should I do if I think I might have shigella?
Seek medical advice by visiting your GP or a sexual health clinic. Tell them that you may have picked up a stomach infection from sex, possibly shigella. That way they will know which tests to give you.
Anyone with bad diarrhoea should:
1. Get tested
If you do test positive for shigella, wait at least 48 hours after symptoms stop before going back to work.
If your work involves handling food or contact with patients, you should not go back to work until tests have ruled out shigella.
If you test positive for shigella you cannot go back to work until a health professional says so.
2. Wash hands frequently!
You may be infectious for up to a month, so wash hands with soap and warm water after using the toilet and before touching food.
Don’t prepare food for others while you’re ill or until a week after symptoms stop.
Wash the clothes, bedding and towels of an infected person on the highest setting of the washing machine.
- Sex, until a week after symptoms stop.
- Sharing towels. Use separate towels at home. Frequently clean taps, door handles, the toilet flush and seat with hot soapy water.
- Jacuzzis/hot tubs/spas. You might contaminate and infect others.
How it's passed on
Shigella is caused by bacteria found in faeces (poo). Only a tiny amount needs to get into your mouth to pass it on (eg, via your fingers).
It’s often caused by contaminated food but it can also be passed on sexually.
Sex that may involve contact with faeces is a risk eg, anal sex, fisting, handling a condom or sex toy used for anal sex, oral sex, touching someone’s backside or rimming.
Someone with shigella can be infectious for up to a month.
Tests and treatment
The infection can be cured with antibiotics, although not everyone will need them. Drinking fluids will stop you losing too much water.
How to lower the risk during sex:
- Wash your hands during or after sex, especially if you’re rimming, touching someone’s backside or handling used condoms or sex toys. Even better, have a shower.
- Wear condoms for anal sex. Latex gloves offer protection if fingering or fisting. For barrier protection when rimming, cut a condom up into a square. Don’t share sex toys or douching equipment.
- Skin on the buttocks, around the backside or groin may carry the bacteria, so avoid licking these areas. Showering after sex is even better than washing.
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