Shigella is a sexually transmitted infection that affects the digestive tract and usually causes inflammatory diarrhea that can be bloody. The infection may also lead to fever, abdominal cramping, and tenesmus, a continual or recurrent urge to evacuate the bowels.
Most people that acquire a shigella infection will recover without any treatment or medication - effective medication helps shorten the illness’s duration. Those living with HIV, in particular, benefit from antibiotic treatment. Now, antibiotic-resistant strains of the virus seem to be emerging.
Obviously, STIs such as shigella don’t make moral judgements about you or the sex that you’re having. Whether we’re in a long-term relationship or just having some hook-up fun on a Tuesday night, it’s a level playing field – we can all transmit and acquire the same STIs.
While there’s no moral hierarchy when it comes to sex and STIs, the more that you know about your own health and the health of your sexual partners, the more confident that you can be about where you stand in relation to STIs. Having an open and frank discussion about sexual health is much easier if you’re in a relationship or you have a regular hook-up buddy, but it’s not so straightforward when it comes to your more anonymous interactions.
What is Shigella?
Shigella is a bacterial infection.
The symptoms of a Shigella infection are diarrhoea and stomach cramps – it’s frequently mistaken for food poisoning.
How is Shigella transmitted?
Shigella is a pretty aggressive bacteria – you only need the smallest amount of contact for the infection to be transmitted.
You can get Shigella by eating food that has been contaminated with the bacteria, but – for queer guys – our biggest exposure is during sex.
The Shigella bacteria is found in faecal matter – your faeces, your shit. So, if you come into contact with even the smallest amount of faecal matter that contains the bacteria, then it’s likely that you’ll pick up the infection.
Rimming is the most likely point of transmission – because your mouth is likely to make direct contact with the bacteria. But any scenario where ass play is involved – fingering, using toys, fisting – could involve you coming into contact with the Shigella bacteria.
How can I protect myself against Shigella?
It’s difficult. A focus on hygiene will help. Try and ensure that you’ve both had a shower and thoroughly washed before the fun gets underway. If you’re fisting, using gloves may help provide some protection.
If someone has been diagnosed with Shigella, it’s important that they avoid sexual contact until fully recovered – to avoid transmitting the bacteria to others. It usually takes about 10 days to get rid of the bacteria from your body – antibiotics can be prescribed.
A severe case of Shigella can put you in hospital.
What do I do if I think I’ve got Shigella?
Generally, you’ll have some symptoms – usually this manifests as diarrhoea or stomach cramps. If you think you’ve got Shigella, it’s important that you go to your doctor or local sexual health clinic for testing. Regular testing for STIs is also a good way to identify if you’re carrying the bacteria.
While your sexual health clinic will be pretty clued-up about Shigella, your doctor may not automatically make the connection between stomach cramps and sexual activity. You may need to make it clear to your doctor that you have sex with men and that you may have been exposed to Shigella.
If you’ve got the bacteria, it’s generally not a major drama. You should start to feel better fairly quickly and you should be fully recovered from the infection in about 10 days. However, this antibiotic-resistant strain complicates things a bit.
If you’re feeling unwell, seek medical advice early. Stay hydrated. Antibiotics may not address the problem.
Do I need to tell anyone if I’ve got Shigella?
Shigella isn’t anything to be embarrassed or ashamed about. It’s pretty likely that we’re all going to encounter it at some stage.
Don’t have sex while you’re still in the recovery phase. Make sure that you’re not transmitting the bacteria to anyone else.
You should also contact anyone that you think you might have exposed to the bacteria during a sexual encounter. From when you first began experiencing symptoms, contact anyone you had sex with in the week prior to that. Letting them know will be a good prompt for them to go and get tested and make sure that they’re not unwittingly transmitting the bacteria to anyone else.