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By: RSC Editorial Team

July 5, 2022

What Is Shigella Flexneri: Symptoms and Prevention

Did you know that some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) mimic the symptoms of food poisoning or a common upset stomach? Partaking in any sexual activity without adequate safety measures puts you at risk for ingesting bacteria that can harm your gut, including the common gram-negative bacteria, Shigella flexneri. 

So, what is Shigella flexneri? Below, we explain everything you need to know about this bacterial infection. If you think you might have a sexually transmitted disease (STD), order a rapid STD test online or visit a local Rapid STD Testing clinic to speak with a doctor. 

Shigella Flexneri Symptoms and Sources

Shigella bacteria spread by directly ingesting an infected individual’s stool, making the infection highly contagious. While it may not be an STD, unsafe sexual activities are one of the leading causes of spreading Shigella. You can get sick with Shigella by:

  • Not washing your hands after touching something contaminated: If you’ve just changed a diaper and forgot to wash your hands before touching your mouth, you could accidentally ingest the bacteria. 
  • Eating contaminated food: Eating food from unsanitary or unsafe sources could result in an infection. 
  • Drinking water with sewage in it: Sometimes, unsafe water sources might have sewage contamination.
  • Ingesting bodily fluids or waste during sexual activities: One of the most common ways people contract Shigella is through sexual contact. Men who have sex with men have an increased risk of accidentally consuming contaminated fecal matter, making Shigella a sexually transmitted enteric infection. 

Symptoms typically begin within a day or two of ingesting the bacteria. Shigella flexneri symptoms include:

  • Mild diarrhea 
  • Bloody diarrhea 
  • Fever
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting

How long does Shigella last? You should expect the symptoms to continue for around five to seven days, though your fecal matter remains contagious for a few weeks. 

What Disease Is Caused by Shigella Flexneri?

The Shigella bacteria cause a disease called shigellosis, which invades the intestinal epithelial layer of cells, causing a severe inflammatory response within your organs. As your immune system’s white blood cells attempt to fight the bacteria, you typically experience severe gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea, stomach pain, vomiting, and fever. 

When answering the question, “what is Shigella flexneri?” keep in mind that the infection is more than just a stomach ache. While the symptoms might mimic food poisoning, the long-term effects and contagious nature make this bacteria increasingly dangerous. 

While the illness should resolve by itself within a week, many people experience mild symptoms for months as their digestive system recovers. The most severe cases risk developing the following complications:

  • Dehydration: Dehydration is common among all gastrointestinal infections. Diarrhea and vomiting make it difficult for your body to retain the water it needs. You should seek medical attention if you notice the common dehydration clinical symptoms, like dark urine, dizziness, dry mouth, and infrequent urination. 
  • Seizures: While not common, some children who run high fevers from Shigella suffer seizures. Adults without fevers could also experience this reaction, though it’s rarer.
  • Prolapsed anus: Severe diarrhea and inflammation could irritate the bowels so much that a portion of the intestinal lining slips through the rectum and out the anus. Prolapsed anuses are uncommon for healthy individuals who only get sick for a few days. 
  • Hemolytic uremic syndrome: In rare cases, shigellosis decreases red blood cell and platelet counts, potentially causing kidney failure. 
  • Toxic megacolon: Extreme inflammatory cases could cause colon paralysis, which inhibits the ability to pass stool. If the colon becomes too backed up, it could rupture, causing a fatal infection. 
  • Reactive arthritis: Infections can cause joint pain and inflammation, though usually, this symptom is temporary. 
  • Sepsis: If the bacteria damage the intestinal lining, they could enter the bloodstream. Bloodstream infections, or sepsis, are often fatal. 

To prevent your infection from developing into these dangerous ailments, contact your doctor if you notice blood in your stool or any dehydration symptoms. If you’re unsure what’s wrong, order a 10-panel STD test from Rapid STD Testing.  

Who Are the Most at Risk of Shigellosis

The most at-risk group of people for catching shigellosis are men having sex with men. Common activities that spread the bacteria include:

  • Oral sex
  • Touching the anal region and not washing hands after
  • Anal sex
  • Handling an infected condom
  • Using contaminated sex toys (learn more about sex toys, STD, and STI correlations) 

Many assume they would never intentionally ingest fecal matter during sex, though consuming just a small amount of bacteria could lead to infection. Usually, the bacteria remain undetected to the naked eye, so people can’t see how they’re infecting themselves. 

Aside from men who have sex with men, the following groups also have high risks of contracting Shigella:

  • Children under five: Kids have a habit of putting their fingers and dirty objects in their mouths. Young children don’t understand the ramifications of ingesting dangerous bacteria and might get their hands on an infected item before a parent can sanitize it. 
  • People living in large groups: Anyone in jail, group houses, community centers, public pools, nursing homes, military facilities, child care centers, or other groups have an increased risk of touching infected items. 
  • Travelers in underdeveloped countries: Some areas lack adequate sanitation devices and water filtration systems, so when outsiders visit, their bodies cannot fight off the bacteria. 
  • People with a weakened immune response: Anyone with a pre-existing condition that inhibits the immune system’s functions has a higher risk of getting Shigella since their body can’t adequately kill off the bacteria. 

What Is the Treatment for Shigella Flexneri?

Prevention is the best way to avoid Shigella. Now that you’ve learned, “what is Shigella flexneri?” you’ve already taken your first step. Avoid the infection by adhering to the following recommendations:

  • Wash your hands before and after sex.
  • Wash your hands during intercourse if you touch any anal regions before continuing.
  • Avoid oral contact with the anal area.
  • Use separate condoms for anal sex and oral sex.
  • Wear gloves when handling anal areas.
  • Don’t share sex toys.
  • Dispose of soiled diapers adequately.
  • Disinfect the diaper changing station.
  • Don’t ingest water from untreated sources (lakes, ponds, creeks, etc.).
  • If you get sick, avoid swimming or preparing food for others.

Mild cases of Shigella flexneri typically don’t require medications and resolve themselves within a week. Infected individuals with severe symptoms might need treatment to prevent their condition from worsening. 

Usually, doctors recommend an antimicrobial treatment to help your body fight the bacteria using antibiotics. While this medication is usually extremely effective, you must consider the antibiotic resistance risks. When you take an antibiotic too frequently or for long periods, bacteria and other illnesses learn how to fight the medication, meaning you might not be able to treat the ailment as easily in the future. 

Testing yourself regularly for STDs is a great way to stay ahead of medical treatments, reduce the spread, and keep yourself safe. Rapid STD Testing offers discreet same-day STD testing so you can get results in an instant. 

Do Your Part to Reduce the Spread by Getting Tested Today! 

If you searched online for “what is Shigella flexneri?” you’ve already taken the first step toward becoming more educated and aware of sexually transmitted infections. Order STD tests online today at a local clinic or call (866) 872-1888 to speak with one of our professionals at Rapid STD Testing today for more information!

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By: RSC Editorial Team
July 5, 2022

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