What is Shigella?
Shigellosis is a common diarrheal disease caused by a group of bacteria called Shigella. Shigella lives in the feces (poop, shit, stool) of infected people and can be spread to others while they are sick and for up to 4 weeks after they feel better. Those who have Shigella might not show any symptoms but can still pass it on to others.
How does Shigella spread?
Anyone can get Shigella through:
- Person-to-person contact. Shigella passes from shit or soiled fingers of one person to the mouth of another person, which can happen during sexual activity. Oral-anal sex or oral stimulation (i.e., sucking or licking) of the anus (analingus, rimming, tossed salad) is especially risky.
- Eating food prepared by someone with Shigella who has not washed their hands before preparing it.
- Swallowing water that was contaminated by infected fecal matter - this could be drinking water or water from swimming pools, streams, lakes, and other bodies of water that have been contaminated by Shigella.
What are the symptoms of Shigella?
The symptoms are: diarrhea (sometimes with blood or mucus), stomach cramps, fever, and nausea or vomiting. Symptoms may occur from 1 to 7 days after exposure and last an average of 4 to 7 days. Some people may not show any symptoms. People with compromised immune systems, such as those living with HIV or cancer, or who have had an organ transplant, are more likely to have severe symptoms which may result in a prolonged illness and even hospitalization.
How can I prevent giving or getting Shigella?
It’s best to clean up back there! Wash your penis (dick, cock), butt (ass), vagina (pussy), hands, and sex toys before and after sex. No need to use steel wool -- soap and water will be just fine. Using a barrier helps as well: a dental dam or non-microwave plastic wrap are two options. A little lube on the butt side will hold your barrier in place. Also, handwashing with soap and water is the most important way to prevent infection before and after any sexual activity, after touching items used during sex like used condoms and sex toys, after using the toilet, before handling food or drink, and before eating.
How can I get tested for Shigella?
Your healthcare provider can test you for Shigella. If you do not have a provider or are uninsured, contact Chase Brexton Health Services at 410-837-2050. If you are uninsured and living with HIV, contact Chase Brexton or the JACQUES Initiative at UMMC Midtown at 443-552-2933.
What is the treatment for Shigella?
Shigella is treated with antibiotics. Men who have sex with men (MSM) are more likely than others to get infected with Shigella that is resistant to two antibiotics commonly used to treat adults who have Shigella. Therefore, MSM who get Shigella may need to see their healthcare providers repeatedly before receiving treatments that will work. Additionally, they might need injectable antibiotics rather than antibiotics that can be taken by mouth.
Where can I get more information?
- CDC’s Shigella website
- CDC's Shigella fact sheet for gay and bisexual men
- Planned Parenthood’s rimming website