Here’s a guide to what you need to know about the STI you’ve never heard of… and how to avoid it.
01. You might think it’s food poisoning…
Shigella causes severe diarrhoea and stomach cramps, and is often mistaken for food poisoning.
One man who got Shigella through rimming, said: “Initially I blamed it on a bad curry and held off visiting my GP for a week, but really wish I had gone straight away. Although it was treatable, I had to take six weeks off work.”
02. It only takes a tiny amount of bacteria to get Shigella.
“Shigella is caught from bacteria in faeces getting into your mouth during and after sex, either directly or via unwashed hands – and only a tiny amount of bacteria can spread the infection,” explains Cary James, Head of Health Promotion at Terrence Higgins Trust.
You can get Shigella by licking skin, condoms or toys which may have faeces on it – eg. when rimming, or giving oral sex after anal sex. Symptoms often develop around one to three days after sex.
03. Gay and bisexual men are at risk – especially in London, Brighton and Manchester
“New figures show a surge in cases likely to have been passed on during sex between men, so it’s vital gay and bisexual men know what it is and how to avoid it,” said Cary James.
In England, there was an excess of 500 male cases of Shigella without a known travel history compared to female cases in 2015. This is three times more than the number seen in 2011.
04. Now wash your hands!
You can lower your risk by washing your hands or taking a shower after sex, especially if your hands have been in or around his anus or you’ve been handling used condoms, sex toys or douching equipment. You should also change condoms between anal and oral sex and use latex gloves for fingering or fisting. To be extra safe, use a barrier for rimming (such as a square of latex).
05. You’ll need to cancel that spa day….
“A person with Shigella may be infectious for up to a month, so you’ll need to avoid sex, spas, Jacuzzis, hot tubs and sharing towels until a week after symptoms stop,” said Cary James.
“Also remember to wash your hands after using the toilet and before eating or preparing food, using warm water and soap, and avoid preparing food for other people while you’re ill or until a week after symptoms stop.
“You’ll also need to wait for 48 hours after the symptoms stop before going back to work, or longer if you work with food or patients.”
06. Its easy to treat.
It’s not all bad news – a Shigella infection is treatable. Cary James advised: “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 doctor needs to know this so you get the right tests and treatment. A full sexual health check-up including an HIV test is a good idea.”
07. You’re not alone.
Cary James added: “Lots of people have questions about Shigella and how to avoid it, and there’s lots of advice and support out there for men who have sex with men.
“We’re working with Public Health England on raising awareness of Shigella, highlighting the symptoms, how it is transmitted and how to avoid it.
“Anyone who is worried can also contact THT Direct on 0808 802 1221 or go to NHS choices.”
You can find out more information about Shigella and get advice on other topics at tht.org.uk