What is it?
Shigella is a group of several bacteria that causes bowel infections. Other gut bugs cause amoebiasis, giardiasis and salmonellosis.
How do you get them?
Shigella is very infectious and therefore easily passed on. It is present in the faeces (poo) of an infected person and can be transmitted when tiny particles of contaminated faeces (poo) enter the mouth. This can happen in three ways:
- through rimming (licking the arse)
- by getting faeces (poo) onto your fingers and then touching your mouth
- by putting contaminated objects like food, pens and cigarettes into your mouth
Faeces can sometimes get onto the hands during sex and by handling things such as used condoms and sex toys. Once it is on your fingers it can easily get into the mouth. Gut infections can be passed on sexually or otherwise through food and water.
What are the symptoms or signs?
Symptoms include stomach cramps, diarrhoea (sometimes with blood and or mucous), fever and nausea. These can appear between 12 hours and four days after exposure. A person with shigella may experience no, mild or severe symptoms. In most cases recovery takes between four and seven days but may take longer. Giardia can cause cramps, swelling of your bowel and can make you shit frequently. Amoeba can cause diarrhoea, stomach pain, swelling of your colon and bleeding from your bowel.
Shigella and other gut infections can be diagnosed by taking a stool (poo) sample.
Can it be treated?
If you have diarrhoea, drink lots of fluids to avoid dehydration. Oral re-hydration solutions, available from the chemist, can also assist with re-hydration. Treatments that slow down the diarrhoea can be harmful but antibiotics may be used to treat the infection. In severe cases, especially for HIV-positive people, hospitalisation may be needed. Waiters and others involved in food handling are advised not to work while they have shigella and for seven days after the symptoms stop. Avoid sex with anyone until seven days after the symptoms have ceased.
How can it be prevented?
Gut infections can be avoided by condoms, using gloves and dental dams. You should wash your hands after handling used condoms or sex toys or after having sex involving arse play. Anal douching doesn’t help in limiting the spread of shigella as it brings bacteria to the surface of the anus (bum).
Be aware of the ways that tiny particles of faeces can enter your mouth. These include:
- biting your nails
- smoking a cigarette
- eating unwrapped lollies, nuts, fruit or other food
- sharing cups, bottles, cutlery, plates or other household equipment
Shigella (and other gut bugs) & HIV
If you are HIV positive you are more likely to have severe symptoms, which may result in a prolonged illness and hospitalisation. Both HIV-negative and HIV-positive people respond equally well to the standard treatment for Giardia, which is very effective.