The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is alerting communities about a rise of a bacterial infection known as Shigella, a gastrointestinal illness that causes diarrhea and stomach pain which is often accompanied by fever and bloody stools.
The CDC has issued a warning in particular for men who have sex with men (MSM), as they are at increased risk for Shigella infection due to their higher rate of sexual activity. The bacteria can spread easily and rapidly via direct contact between people during sexual activity, especially any fecal-oral contact. It can also spread through indirect contact with contaminated objects such as sex toys, used condoms or barriers, douching materials, and other surfaces that have been contaminated with the bacteria.
Symptoms usually start one to two days after coming into contact with the bacteria, so if you experience any of these symptoms you should consult your doctor as soon as possible. In recent years there has been an increase in multidrug-resistant strains of Shigella infections making them more difficult to treat than their non-resistant counterparts. According to the CDC, cases of shigellosis reported in the US responded well to antibiotic treatment. However, last year, around 5% of Shigella infections did not respond to the usual medications that fight it.
It’s important for individuals to be aware of how the bacteria is transmitted in order to prevent its spread. Engaging in safe sex practices such as using a barrier method like condoms or dental dams during oral, anal, and vaginal intercourse can drastically reduce the chances of transmission.
How to avoid the spread of Shigella:
- Wash hands, genitals, and anus with soap and water before and after sexual activity.
- Wash hands after touching sex toys, external and internal condoms, dental dams, and any other items that might have been in contact with the vagina or anus.
- Use condoms or dental dams during oral-genital sex and oral-anal sex.
- Use latex gloves during anal fingering or fisting.
- Wash sex toys with soap and water after each use.
CDC guidelines advise patients to refrain from sex for up to two weeks after the symptoms disappear. They also advise you to frequently wash your hands and avoid preparing food for others, if possible.
The good news is that shigella will normally pass through your system with or without treatment, but it can take a few days.
According to Dr. Robert Goubeaux, Medical Director at Care Resource, “Patients don’t always require treatment; however, medication will help shorten the duration of the illness. Those whose immune systems are weakened due to illness (such as HIV) or medical treatment (such as chemotherapy for cancer) can have a more serious illness and should consult their provider for evaluation and management.”
If you experience diarrhea in the days following a sexual encounter, consider getting tested for Shigella. Care Resource offers a no-cost assessment for testing and treatment of Shigella. For more info call 305-576-1234 or visit careresource.org.