Shigella is a group of germs that can cause gastroenteritis with dysentery. It’s often mistaken for food poisoning.

About Shigella

Shigella causes severe diarrhoea. It’s caught from bacteria in faeces getting into your mouth during and after sex. Gay and Bisexual men are particularly at risk.

Signs and Symptoms

The symptoms of shigella usually start within four days of being infected. You will get diarrhoea lasting more than 48 hours, often with blood in it. Other symptoms include stomach cramps and fever.

How is it Transmitted?

Shigella is transmitted very easily. It takes just a tiny amount of bacteria to get into your mouth. This can happen by direct licking or via your fingers.

You can get Shigella by licking skin, condoms or sex toys which may have faeces on them.

How to Get Tested

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To lower your risk of infection you should:

  • Wash your hands after sex or take a shower to clean your buttocks, groin and penis.
  • Change condoms between anal and oral sex
  • Use a barrier for rimming (such as a square of latex)
  • Use latex gloves for fingering and fisting


Shigella can be easily treated with antibiotics. If you have symptoms of shigella drink fluids to stop losing too much water. If your work involves handling food or contact with patients, don’t go back to work until your treatment is finished.


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Contacting a sexual health service for the first time can be a little daunting, so here are some easy answers to many of the questions you may have.

How long will I be contagious with shigella?

A person with shigella can be infectious for up to a month. During this time wash your hands frequently. Avoid preparing food for other people while you’re ill or until a week after your symptoms stop

What should I do if I think I have shigella?

Visit your GP or a sexual health clinic if you think you have shigella. Explain to the doctor or nurse you may have picked up a gut infection from sex, possibly shigella. They need to know this so they can get you the right tests and treatment.

Is shigella serious?

Shigella is usually not serious, but if not treated properly it can lead to complications. Complications can include dehydration, rectal prolapse, reactive arthritis and more.