Shigella is a bacteria that causes a bowel infection called shigellosis, which is highly infectious and causes diarrhoea.

What causes shigella and how is it transmitted?

Shigella exists in the faecal matter of someone with the bacteria in their system, and is passed on when particles of contaminated faeces enter someone else’s mouth. Shigella transmission can happen during sex through:

  • Rimming, fingering, fisting or fucking
  • Handling used sex toys
  • Handling used condoms
  • Getting faecal matter on your fingers, hands or objects that then making contact with your mouth

What are the signs and symptoms of shigella?

Symptoms of shigella generally occur between 1-3 days after being in contact with the bacteria, and include:

  • Diarrhoea (sometimes with blood and/or mucous)
  • Vomiting/Nausea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Fever

How can I get tested for shigella?

You can get tested for shigella by taking a stool sample. Your doctor will then confirm whether or not you have an infection of shigellosis.

Does shigella need to be treated?

If you have shigella, it will usually disappear without the need for antibiotic treatment. Drink plenty of fluids (use re-hydration solutions if needed) and rest.

How to treat shigella?

If you have a severe case of shigella, your doctor will usually prescribe oral antibiotics, as these reduce the duration of the symptoms.

If you experience symptoms, see your doctor and:

  • Abstain from sex until 7 days after your symptoms cease
  • Avoid food preparation or sharing utensils until symptoms cease
  • Avoid sharing linen, towels or clothing until symptoms cease
  • Avoid swimming in a pool until 24 hours after diarrhoea has ceased
  • Avoid providing personal care for others such as patients, children or the elderly
  • Wash hands often and thoroughly
  • You should not go to work while you have diarrhoea. Some people are in ‘high-risk’ jobs for passing it on. These are people who handle food (for example chefs or butchers) and people who work with children or the elderly

It’s also important to tell your recent sexual partner(s), if they show symptoms they should also be tested.

How can I prevent shigella transmission?

A person can have shigella for some weeks and have no symptoms. They can still pass it on to others, although antibiotics reduce the time shigella remains in the body of an infected person.

To prevent getting shigella, be aware that tiny particles of faeces can easily enter your mouth, especially when biting your nails, lighting a cigarette, preparing food, and sharing utensils such as cups, bottles and household equipment. It’s recommended you:

  • Wear gloves for arse play
  • Use a dam for rimming
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after having sex
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after handling used condoms or sex toys
  • Wash sex toys with soap and water after use

If I’m on PrEP, how will shigella affect me?

PrEP is an excellent HIV prevention tool. However, it does not provide you with protection from shigella.

What if I’m HIV positive?

If you’re poz and you contract shigella, there is a small chance you may experience more severe symptoms, and this may result in hospitalisation.

Fast facts about shigella

  • Shigella is very infectious and easily passed on
  • Shigella is transmitted when the particles of contaminated faecal matter enters someone else’s mouth
  • Symptoms usually include diarrhoea, stomach cramps, fever and nausea
  • Shigella usually disappears without the need for antibiotics
  • Some strains of shigella can be multidrug-resistant and IV antibiotics administered at a hospital may be required
  • To avoid getting shigella, wear gloves and dams during sex, and always wash your hands after playing