What is Shigella?

Shigella is a type of bacteria which can cause severe stomach upset like food poisoning. The infection can be treated with antibiotics. It is carried in faeces (poo) and so can be passed on, either sexually or through contaminated food.

How do you catch Shigella?

Shigella is caused by bacteria that lives in faeces (poo). It is usually caused by food contamination, but it can also be passed through sex.

It only takes a very tiny amount to get into your mouth for you to pick it up and pass it on – this can even be from touching genitals with your finger that you then pass by your mouth.

Sex that can include contact with faeces is a risk. This includes anal sex, fisting, touching a condom or sex toy that has been used for anal sex, touching someone’s anus or rimming.

What are the symptoms of Shigella?

  • Some people have no symptoms. 
  • Some people get diarrhoea and abdominal (belly) cramps. They might also have a high temperature, feel sick or vomit.
  • In some serious cases, the diarrhoea is severe and may contain blood (this is called 'dysentery').
  • Symptoms usually begin 1 to 2 days after you get infected and can last up to a week.

What should I do if I think I’ve got Shigella?

Get medical help by seeing your GP or visiting a Sexual Health Clinic. Tell them about your symptoms and that you might have picked up a stomach infection from sex, possibly Shigella. This will help them order the correct tests.

If you get diarrhoea, you should:

1. Get tested

If you are found to have Shigella you will be told to remain off work until a health professional says it is safe to do so.

2. Wash your hands often

You may be infectious for up to a month, so you should wash your hands with soap and water after using the toilet and before touching food.

3. Take care at home:

Do not prepare food for others while you are unwell and for a week after symptoms go away.

Wash your clothes, bed sheets and towels on the high temperature setting of your washing machine.

Use hot soapy water to clean door handles, taps, the toilet flush and the toilet seat at home very often.

4. Be sure to

Not have sex, until a week after symptoms go away.

Not share towel or flannels with others.

Not use Jacuzzis or hot tubs.

How do I reduce my risk of getting Shigella during sex?

Risk of Shigella will be lowered by:

  • Wearing condoms for anal sex.
  • Washing your hands during or after sex, especially if you’re rimming, touching someone’s anus or touching used condoms or sex toys.
  • Using latex gloves for protection when fingering or fisting.
  • Using a barrier when rimming, e.g a cut piece of condom of a dental dam (ask at a sexual health clinic)
  • Avoiding sharing sex toys or douching equipment.
  • Showering after sex