What's Shigella? What to Know About the Antibiotic-Resistant STI Rising Among MSM

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday February 2, 2022
Originally published on January 28, 2022

Ever heard of Shigella sonnei? There's a good chance you have not, but you might want to take note: According to a British health agency, it's an antibiotic-resistant STI spreading among men who have sex with men (MSM).

U.K. newspaper The Independent reported that health authorities "have issued a warning over an 'extremely antibiotic-resistant' infection, which "mainly affect[s] gay [and] bisexual men" and can easily be spread between sex partners.

"Shigella is a gut infection that causes diarrhea (sometimes mixed with blood), stomach cramps and fever," the Independent relayed. "Symptoms usually occur one to four days after the infection is picked up and it is often mistaken for food poisoning."

U.S. health agency the NCBI posted a scientific paper on its website reporting that Shigella is a form of dysentery. "Shigella sonnei is the emerging pathogen globally, as it is the second common infectious species of shigellosis (bloody diarrhea) in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and the leading one in the developed world," the paper noted.

The Independent detailed that, according to Britain's Health Security Agency, cases of Shigella have recently spiked, with "47 cases...reported in the four-month period between September 2021 and January 2022, compared with just 16 cases in the previous 17 months (April 2020 to August 2021)."

The numbers may appear small, but the ease with which the bacterium can be transmitted — together with how, according to the UKHSA, "recent cases show resistance to antibiotics is increasing" in the pathogen — makes Shigella a health hazard to be aware of.

Fortunately, the disease doesn't typically cause grave illness. "Most "people recover without needing antibiotics," the CDC explained in an online article. "However, people with severe illness and those with underlying conditions that weaken the immune system" may require treatment.

In another spot of good news, simple hygiene — such as thorough washing — is a good preventive measure. As the UKHSA summarized, Shigella "is passed on through the fecal-oral route during sex, either directly or via unwashed hands, and only a tiny amount of bacteria can spread the infection."

In other words, the illness can be transmitted through rimming or neglecting to wash one's hands after using the bathroom.

"Practicing good hygiene after sex is really important to keep you and your partners safe," Dr. Gauri Godbole of the UKHSA clarified.

And if you do pick up the bacterium, Dr. Godbole advises that it's "important that gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men do not dismiss their symptoms."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.