Shigella - An Enteric STI

HealthLinkBC File Number: 
Sexually Transmitted Infections Series
Last Updated: 
March 2006

What is Shigella?

Shigella are bacteria that cause a stomach infection. They are only found in human stool or bowel movements.

What is an enteric STI?

An STD is a sexually transmitted disease. An enteric STD is a disease that is spread by mouth to anus (oral-anal) contact, usually by having anal sex.

Who can get it?

Anyone who comes into contact with infected stool can get Shigella. Men having sex with men are at higher risk due to high rates of infection in the gay community.

What are the symptoms of Shigella?

When a person is sick with Shigella, they can have diarrhea, sometimes with blood and/or mucous, fever, stomach cramps, nausea (feeling sick to your stomach) and vomiting.

Symptoms usually happen one to three days after exposure. A person with Shigella may experience mild, severe or no symptoms. If you have serious symptoms, you should see a doctor. In most cases, it takes four to seven days to get better and sometimes longer.

How is Shigella spread?

Shigella is very infectious and spreads easily. The bacteria are in the stool of an infected person, and infection occurs when tiny bits of infected stool get in someone else’s mouth. Being exposed to infected stool can occur through sexual contact:

  • Through oral-anal contact, sometimes called rimming.
  • By getting stool onto your fingers and then touching your mouth.
  • By putting objects that have tiny bits of stool on them such as sex toys into your mouth.

How can you prevent Shigella?

When having sex:

  • Do not have unprotected direct oral-anal contact.
  • Use a dam, plastic wrap or cut open a condom when having oral-anal contact.
  • Use latex gloves when hands have contact with the anal area.
  • When handling the dam or removing the glove, do not touch the area that has been in contact with the anus.
  • Right after sex, discard used condoms and dams.
  • Thoroughly wash your hands, other body parts, such as the penis, and objects used like sex toys that may have touched stool. Use running water and soap.
  • When washing vigorously rub hands together including the backs of your hands and wrists.
  • Clean under your nails and keep them short.
  • Dry hands with a fresh paper towel or clean towel.

If you have Shigella, how can you prevent giving it to others?

  • Do not have unprotected oral-anal sex for at least seven days after your symptoms have stopped.
  • Wash your hands well and regularly with soap and warm water. This is important for all age groups, especially after having a bowel movement, and before preparing foods or drinks. People infected with Shigella should avoid preparing food and drinks for others.
  • Persons who handle food, or who care for children, someone who is sick, the elderly, or other dependents, cannot go to work until they have shown that they have cleared the infection. Persons are clear of infection when follow up stool specimens, submitted after treatment is complete, are negative.

When should you see a doctor?

Contact a doctor if you experience fever, stomach pains or cramps, or diarrhea or loose stools, especially if blood is present.

In some persons, the diarrhea can be very bad and they need to go to hospital. If you have diarrhea, drink lots of fluids to avoid dehydration.

What is the treatment for Shigella?

Persons with Shigella infections can be treated with antibiotics to speed recovery and to help prevent others from getting it.

Ways to reduce your risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection

  • The more partners you have, the more likely you are to be exposed to a sexually transmitted infection.
  • To help protect yourself and your partner(s) from a sexually transmitted infection (STI), use a condom during any vaginal, oral, or anal sex.
  • Latex and polyurethane male and female condoms help prevent the spread of many sexually transmitted infections including HIV.
  • A new condom must be used each time you have sex.
  • If a condom breaks, a pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection may occur. If a condom breaks during sex and you are concerned, talk to your health care provider.
  • Use only water-based lubricants with male latex condoms. Oil-based lubricants, such as petroleum jelly, lotion or baby oil, can weaken and destroy latex.
  • Store latex condoms at room temperature (not too hot and not too cold) and check the expiry date on the condom package.
  • Spermicides containing nonoxynol-9 (N-9) may increase the risk of infection/transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and it is not recommended to prevent HIV or these infections.

For more information, see HealthLinkBC File #08o Condoms Help Prevent Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).

BCCDC logo

Is it an emergency?

If you or someone in your care has chest pains, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding, it could be a life-threatening emergency. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately.
If you are concerned about a possible poisoning or exposure to a toxic substance, call Poison Control now at 1-800-567-8911.

Thanks to our partners and endorsers: