Shigellosis Update

By: Ali Gorman, R.N.
By: Ali Gorman, R.N.

Health officials say they are still seeing secondary cases. This means the bacteria is spreading within households.

Another reason for the continued growth of cases is that the community is on high alert, and more symptoms are being reported. Health officials say there may always be a few cases of the illness in every community but due to last month's outbreak, more people are reporting signs of the illness to their healthcare providers.

Health officials remind everyone to not prepare food for Thanksgiving dinner if you are sick.

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What is Shigellosis?

Shigellosis is an infectious disease caused by a group of bacteria called Shigella. Most who are infected with Shigella develop diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps starting a day or two after they are exposed. The diarrhea is often bloody.

Shigellosis usually resolves in five to seven days. In some people, especially young children and the elderly, diarrhea can be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. A severe infection with high fever may also be associated with seizures in children less than two years old. Some persons who are infected may have no symptoms at all, but may still pass the Shigella bacteria to others.

How can Shigella infections be treated?

Shigellosis can usually be treated with antibiotics. Unfortunately, some Shigella bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics and using antibiotics to treat shigellosis can actually make the germs more resistant in the future.

People with mild infections will usually recover quickly without antibiotic treatment. Therefore, when many people in a community are affected by shigellosis, antibiotics are sometimes used selectively to treat only the more severe cases. Antidiarrheal medicines are likely to make the illness worse and should be avoided.

How do people catch Shigella?

The Shigella bacteria pass from one infected person to the next. Shigella are present in the diarrheal stools of infected people while they are sick and for a week or two afterwards. Most Shigella infections are the result of the bacterium passing from stools or soiled fingers of one person to the mouth of another person. This happens when basic hygiene and handwashing habits are inadequate. It is particularly likely to occur among toddlers who are not fully toilet-trained. Family members and playmates of such children are at high risk of becoming infected.

Shigella infections may be acquired from eating contaminated food. Contaminated food may look and smell normal. Food may become contaminated by infected food handlers who forget to wash their hands with soap after using the bathroom. Vegetables can become contaminated if they are harvested from a field with sewage in it. Flies can breed in infected feces and then contaminate food. Shigella infections can also be acquired by drinking or swimming in contaminated water. Water may become contaminated if sewage runs into it, or if someone with shigellosis swims in it.

Some tips for preventing the spread of Shigellosis:

  • Wash hands with soap carefully and frequently, especially after going to the bathroom, after changing diapers and before preparing foods or beverages
  • Dispose of soiled diapers properly
  • Disinfect diaper changing areas after using them
  • Keep children with diarrhea out of child care settings
  • Supervise hand washing of toddlers and small children after they use the toilet
  • People with diarrhea should not prepare food for others
  • If you are traveling to the developing world, "boil it, cook it, peel it or forget it"
  • Avoid drinking pool water

Source: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/shigellosis_g.htm (The Centers for Disease Control) contributed to this report.


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