A Brutal Little-Known STI Is On The Rise, These Are The Symptoms To Look For

There has been a 24% rise in this infection over the past four years.

The sun is shining! Winter is over! Life is good again!

Oh, just one thing. According to Dr Bhavini Shah, a GP from Lloyds Pharmacy Online Doctor, an STI is rapidly spreading throughout the UK and there are strains of it that are antibiotic-resistant.

The STI is called ‘Shigella’ and the symptoms of it are a little different to more commonly known STI’s.

According to Public Health England, symptoms of this usually start within four days of infection and can cause diarrhoea with blood in it, fever, vomiting, and stomach cramps.

Signs, symptoms, and treatment: all you need to know about Shigella

What is Shigella?

According to Dr Shah: “Shigella is a highly infectious bacteria which commonly causes diarrhoea and vomiting, as well as abdominal pain and fever.”

Dr Shah explained that over the past 4 years, we’ve seen a 24% increase in diagnoses of this condition. He says that while this is a much lower rate than other common STI’s, this year-on-year increase in cases is very concerning.

Se added: “What is also concerning is the rapid rise in antibiotic resistant strains of Shigella. There has been a 53% increase in antibiotic resistant Shigella from January to November 2023, with 97 cases being reported, compared to just 9 cases for the whole of 2022.”

How do you catch Shigella?

The infection is caused by bacteria found in faeces. There only needs to be a tiny amount in your mouth to pass it on — such as from your fingers. This is often caused by contaminated food but it can be passed on sexually.

Dr Shah explained: “Sex that may involve contact with faeces is a risk. This includes anal sex, fisting, handling a condom or sex toy used for anal sex, oral sex after anal sex, touching someone’s backside or rimming.”

She added that someone with Shigella can be infectious for up to a month.

Are there other ways to contract Shigella?

Dr Shah explained: “Many people may know shigella, or Shigella sonnei, by its more common historical name: dysentery. The disease is often associated with developing countries or ancient times when sanitation was poor.

“In the past, dysentery was most commonly caught by people drinking untreated water that had been contaminated with sewage. While this is no longer the case in the UK, it is still a common source of the disease in countries with poor access to sanitary drinking water. Shigella can also be common among young children.”

How can you get tested for Shigella?

Dr Shah said: “If you’re experiencing symptoms you should contact your GP or local sexual health clinic. You should explain to them that you may have picked up a gut infection from sex, possibly Shigella. The doctor needs to know this so you get the right tests and treatment.

“For most people, the illness gets better on its own after 3 to 7 days. But some people can have a severe illness. If your symptoms are severe or persistent, a GP may prescribe a short course of antibiotics.”

As well as visiting your doctor, you should also:

  • Abstain from sex until 7 days after symptoms end

  • Avoid sharing bedding, towels, or clothing

  • Avoid preparing food for others or sharing cooking utensils

  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water

Dr Shah advised: “Shigella is also highly contagious so you should try to work from home or take sick leave until at least 48 hours after symptoms cease. This is especially important if your job involves handling food and drink or you work in healthcare as you will need to be given the all clear by a public health official.”

How can I avoid shigella?

Public Health England said: “To lower your risk you can wash your hands after sex (and buttocks, groin and penis too if you can by taking a shower), especially if you’re fingering or handling used condoms, sex toys or douching equipment.”

Public Health England also recommends using latex gloves for fingering and fisting as well as a barrier such as a latex square for rimming.

Finally, in everyday life, you can easily avoid catching Shigella by washing your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap before you eat and after you use the toilet.”

Contact your GP or local sexual health clinic if you think you may have contracted this.