AskDocQ: Everything you need to know about shigella

diarrhoea shigella

Shigella rarely makes the news, but it is lately. You may also notice it mentioned in sexual health literature. It’s a bacterial infection that causes diarrhoea, stomach cramps, nausea and fever.

You can catch Shigella from contaminated food or water, or from infected people.


Men who have sex with men, are at higher risk of exposure. Oral sex, rimming and kissing all allow transmission of the infection.

Symptoms begin 1 to 7 days after exposure to the infection.

People can carry the infection without symptoms for several weeks.

However, they remain infectious.

Treatment is usually oral antibiotics as this reduces the time you are ill and infectious to others.

A resistant strain

Shigella is in the news now because a highly resistant strain of Shigella recently showed up in gay men in New South Wales.

This particular strain requires treatment by injected antibiotics.

Not all diarrhoea is due to Shigella.

There are many other causes of gastroenteritis.

However, severe or persistent symptoms do require investigation by sending a poo sample to the lab for testing.

Not all infections will need treatment – like other causes of gastroenteritis it may get better without any treatment other than rest and fluids.

Nevertheless, severe symptoms, blood in your motions or diarrhoea lasting more than a couple of days probably warrant a trip to the doctor.

Avoiding Shigella contagion


How can you avoid spreading Shigella?

Always wash your hands after going to the toilet, and anyone with diarrhoea should not prepare food.

If you have diarrhoea, fluid replacement is vital to avoid dehydration.

Rehydration formulas from the chemist are the best, but apple juice diluted 1 in 3 with water is a good alternative.

Avoid milk or solid food until your stomach is completely settled.

Once you can cope with food, stick to plain things like unbuttered toast, crackers or boiled rice.

Taking a probiotic at this stage may help with recovery of your normal bowel bacteria.

And what can you do about that burning bum feeling that diarrhoea gives you?

Well I suggest you venture into the baby care aisle of the supermarket and get yourself a tub of nappy rash ointment – it’s magic stuff!

Dr Fiona Bisshop specialises in LGBTIQ health . For more by Dr Bisshop visit, follow @DrFionaBisshop on Twitter, or send your health questions to

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