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Everything you need to know about Shigella – and how to avoid it

The Terrence Higgins Trust has given advice on the lesser known STI

By Steve Brown

We all know about the common STIs like gonorrhoea, syphilis and HIV. Most of us even know the symptoms and how to go about getting treatment.

But, shigella for some reason isn’t as widely known as other STIs. 

Shigella isn’t an STI that is spoken about often, however just because it’s not spoken about that doesn’t mean that its gone away.

Gay and bisexual men continue to be at a higher risk of contracting shigella, which is why it’s important to make sure we are all aware of the symptoms and how to get tested.

Here is everything you need to know about Shigella:

What is Shigella?

Shigella is a type of bacteria that causes severe stomach upset, which can be treated with a course of antibiotics.

It’s passed on through infected faeces, either sexually or through contaminated food.

What are the symptoms?

Some symptoms can include diarrhoea and stomach cramps, which mimic food poisoning.

One man who got shigella through rimming told us that he had first thought the stomach cramps and vomiting was due to him having a bad curry, so he didn’t feel the need to visit the GP. Later on he found out that he had in fact had shigella.

You might also have a fever, feel sick or vomit. The symptoms usually start a day or two after you become infected and last up to a week.

In more serious cases diarrhoea can be severe and may contain blood or mucus – in this case seek medical advice immediately.

It’s also vital to remember that like other STIs such as gonorrhoea, shigella can also sometimes show no symptoms, which is why it’s important to get tested and know for sure if you have it or not.

How is it passed on?

Shigella is often caused by contaminated food but it can also be passed on sexually.

It’s caused by bacteria found in faeces. Only a tiny amount needs to get into your mouth to pass it on – for example, from your fingers. 

If your have sex that involves contact with faeces then you may be at risk of contracting shigella.

This includes:

  • anal sex
  • fisting
  • handling a used condom or sex toy
  • touching someone’s backside or rimming

This might sound like too much information and frankly not something that you’d want to discuss, but it’s a hundred percent necessary!

Where can I get tested?

Visit your local GP or a sexual health clinic, and tell them that you may have picked up a stomach infection from sex, possibly shigella.

Shigella infection is easily cured with antibiotics. Also when you’re getting your shigella test you might as well kill two birds with one stone, and get an all-round STI test.

Better to be safe than sorry!

How can I avoid catching it?

You can lower your risk by washing your hands or taking a shower after sex, especially if your hands have been in or around your partner’s anus or you’ve been handling used condoms, sex toys or douching equipment.

You can find out more information about Shigella on the Terrence Higgins Trust website. Alternatively, you can also contact THT direct on 0808 802 1221