Just as we’re all getting ready for the holiday season, there’s one little thing you do not want to pick up.

Currently in Victoria there is an outbreak of shigellosis among men who have sex with men and it’s not pleasant.

Shigellosis (or shigella) is picked up through oral fecal contact. This is not restricted to practices like rimming, even if you think his arse looks and tastes clean. Shigella is a bacteria that can be present even though everything looks clean. Shigellosis is extremely infectious. You can pick it up by any form of arse play that will leave the bacteria in your hands which then transmit the bug orally by putting contaminated objects like food, pens or cigarettes into your mouth. Once the bug is inside you, it takes one to three days for you to get sick.

Shigellosis symptoms include diarrhea — which might contain blood and mucus — fever, nausea, vomiting and abdominal cramps. The illness usually lasts between four to seven days. During this time, it is important to keep up fluids to avoid dehydration.

People with low immune systems are more likely to have more severe symptoms which could result in a longer illness and, in some cases, hospitalisation.

The take-home message with this bug is that if you have any of these symptoms, you need to see a doctor. Shigellosis can be treated with antibiotics. If you don’t seek out treatment, the bug can stay in your system for up to four weeks and that is not good news for anyone you might want to get close to (or who might want to get close to you) in the meantime.

Transmission to others can be reduced by washing your hands thoroughly (with soap and water) after sexual contact, particularly sex involving rimming, fingering and other forms of arse play.

Apart from the obvious ways in which shigellosis can be transmitted sexually, it is very important that people with symptoms do not prepare or handle food to be eaten by others and that good household cleaning with detergent in areas such as toilets and bathrooms is maintained to prevent others getting sick.

Colin Batrouney is the Victorian AIDS Council’s health promotions manager.

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