Shigella: Symptoms and prevention

This is a diarrheal disease that can be sexually transmitted
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Shigella is a diarrheal disease that causes gastroenteritis and can be sexually transmitted. Shigella can be found in the faeces of a person with shigellosis while they have diarrhoea and for up to a few weeks after the diarrhoea has gone away. 

During sex, shigella can be transmitted by the bacteria getting into the mouth. A small amount of the bacteria can cause infection but the infection can be treated with antibiotics.

How is Shigella passed on?

Shigella can be easily passed on during sex, either directly or via unwashed hands.

You can get shigella by:

  • Fisting or fingering and then inserting your own or your sex partners fingers into the mouth
  • Sharing sex toys into the mouth
  • Unprotected oral sex (rimming)
  • Licking on or around the groin area or rectum or ass

You can also get shigella by:

  • Eating food prepared by someone infected with shigella
  • Swallowing or drinking water that was contaminated by faecal matter

Symptoms of shigella

Shigella causes severe, prolonged diarrhoea and stomach cramps. Symptoms often develop around one to three days after sexual contact, and can include:

  • Frequent and explosive diarrhoea lasting more than 48 hours
  • Stomach cramps
  • Feeling feverish with flu like symptoms
  • Some people report vomiting
  • Some people may have blood mixed with the diarrhoea

How can I prevent transmission?

  • Use condoms for anal and oral sex (and change condoms between partners)
  • Use latex gloves or condoms for fingering or fisting (and change gloves between partners)
  • Do not share dildos or other sex toys (and clean thoroughly between partners)
  • Before and after sex – wash your hands, wash around the genital area and anus
  • Make sure to always wash your hands after using the toilet
  • If travelling internationally, follow food and water precautions and wash hands with soap frequently

How is Shigella diagnosed?

Shigella is diagnosed by sending a stool (faeces) sample to the laboratory for testing. If you suspect you have shigella, you should visit your doctor (GP) who can organise this test. 

If I have Shigella what should I do?

  • If you have diarrhoea, stomach cramps or fever, avoid sex with another person, till you get the all clear
  • Do not share towels; avoid using health spa, Jacuzzis, hot tub or swimming pool
  • Seek medical advice if your symptoms are; severe, last for more than 24 hours, or if there is blood in the faeces
  • If you work in the food industry, healthcare or childcare settings, stay out of work while you have symptoms and seek medical care
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