Chances are that this STD is one you've never heard of...or if you have, you may not have associated it with being transmitted through sex. This disease is SHIGELLA.
Shigella itself is actually not a disease. It is a group of several different species of bacteria. These specific types of bacteria can only be found in the intestinal tract of human beings and of some higher apes. If an individual becomes infected with Shigella, the bacteria are then also present in their feces.
Therefore, the mode of transmission with this infection is through fecal-oral contact; which means it can be passed through unsanitary food handling and/or hygiene practices. It also means that, much like Hepatitis A, there is risk for sexual exposure as well. This risk primarily lies in oral-anal contact ("rimming"), sex play involving fecal matter (“scat”), and touching contaminated items that have penetrated an infected person’s anus (such as a condom, finger/hand, penis, or sex toy).
While not generally life threatening, the symptoms of Shigella infection are very unpleasant. The most common symptom of Shigella is severe diarrhea…often even diarrhea containing blood. Some other symptoms include fever, fatigue, dehydration, pain and stomach cramps, and tenesmus (defined as “painful spasms of the anal sphincter”). These symptoms will manifest themselves usually in a matter of days after contamination by the bacteria and last from four to seven days.
The one exception is for those who are HIV+ or AIDS-diagnosed. These individuals need take special care to avoid contact with Shigella because it can cause lead to chronic symptoms and an opportunistic infection known as “Shigellosis.”
Some major cities have reported episodic dramatic increases in cases of Shigella among gay men. A clinic in San Francisco, for example, reported seeing in a span of only two months more cases than they had seen in the previous calendar year!
If you suspect that you are suffering from symptoms related to exposure to Shigella, you should see your doctor immediately. To protect yourself from getting infected, here are some general guidelines:
1. Avoid anal-oral contact or use a barrier like a dental dam.
2. Do not engage in “scat” behaviors OR if you do, avoid getting any fecal matter or contaminated items/body parts in or near your mouth OR make certain you only choose to do so with partners who are healthy and disease-free.
3. Thoroughly wash your hands after touching/removing a used condom AND wash all hands, genitals, and/or sex toys after they have anally penetrated a partner.
Following these simple steps can be the first step in preventing an otherwise shi**y experience (pun intended)!