Friday, November 8, 2013

Shigellosis Symptoms and How to Prevent the Spread of Shigella Bacteria

Symptoms of Shigella - Photo of Shigella under a microscope by CDC
Infection with Shigella bacteria, a condition called Shigellosis, shigella gastroenteritis, Shigella dysentery, or Bacterial dysentery, is a food-borne illness. People often refer to food-borne illnesses as food poisoning. The most common type of Shigella seen in the United States is Shigella sonei or Group D Shigella. Click the words in blue within this article to hear how to pronounce them.

Approximately 14,000 people in the United States develop a reported case of Shigellosis. Actual numbers are likely much higher because many cases go unreported. The health department will seek to determine the source of a Shigella outbreak in order to help prevent the spread of this germ to more people in the area.

Shigella Symptoms and Treatment - Photo by Grosser Schlumpf
What are the Symptoms of Shigellosis?

Shigellosis often begins with sudden (acute) symptoms including:
  • Stomach (abdominal) cramps or pain
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea that may contain mucous, blood, and/or pus
  • Nausea (feeling sick to your stomach)
  • Vomiting
  • Rectal pain
People with a strong immune system who do not have conditions that may cause the infection to be more severe may not need any treatment other than getting rest and drinking electrolyte solutions and plenty of fluids. However, some people can get very ill if they are infected with Shigella. Anyone who has questions regarding his/her health should contact his or her healthcare provider.

People who become dehydrated due to this food-borne illness should seek medical assistance because they may need to receive electrolyes and fluids through a vein. Those who are experiencing bloody diarrhea should also seek medical advice.

Immediate emergency medical attention should be sought if the person develops serious symptoms such as:
  • Confusion and/or lethargy
  • Headache with a stiff neck
  • Seizures
Each of these symptoms may have other causes. A physician may need to order tests in order to determine the cause of the symptoms. Medications to slow diarrhea are not generally recommended because the medication can cause it to take longer to clear the bacteria from the body. An antibiotic may help the infection to clear quicker and may be needed in cases with more serious symptoms.

How Shigella is Spread - Photo by Paul Nasca
How Do People Get Shigella?

Shigella can easily spread to large numbers of people in a short period of time. Small amounts of the bacteria can cause symptoms. A person may have Shigella bacteria in his or her body for one to seven days, averaging three days, before symptoms appear. Some people may be infected without symptoms but can spread the infection to others. Shigella bacteria exit the body through an infected person's stools or bowel movements. A person can still be contagious for up to two weeks after symptoms resolve.

The infection may be spread by direct contact. For example, if someone with contaminated hands touches someone else's hands, the bacteria may be transferred to the second person's hands. If the second person touches his mouth or food, the bacteria can easily be transferred into the second person's body. This type of spread is particularly common in daycare settings or areas where young children may play together.

People who provide assistance with elimination may also spread Shigella. If the caregiver's hands become contaminated and the caregiver fails to wash his or her hands with soap and water before providing care to the next person, the caregiver and next person(s) receiving hands-on care are at risk for developing the infection.

Shigella bacteria may also be spread through contaminated food. The food typically looks and smells normal. Some of the most common food sources include those that are raw and tend to be handled with hands, such as:
  • salads
  • sandwiches
  • raw vegetables (particularly if harvested in a field containing sewage)
Contaminated water may also spread Shigella if a person drinks water from an untreated pool, pond or lake contaminated with the bacteria. The bacteria can also be spread via splash pads, untreated wading pools, or play fountains. If someone drinks, plays, or swims in untreated contaminated water, this can also cause the person to develop Shigellosis.

How to Prevent Shigella Infection - Photo by jdurham
How Can People Prevent the Spread of Shigella?

Although shigellosis is quite contagious, several preventive measures can help prevent its spread including:
  • Proper hand washing with soap and water
  • Proper food preparation and storage
  • Proper disposal of diapers
  • Proper cleaning of surfaces such as diaper changing areas
  • Children who have diarrhea should not be in child care settings
  • Avoid preparing food for others when experiencing diarrhea
  • Avoid contaminated food and water
  • Drink only treated or boiled water
  • When traveling to developing countries, eat only cooked hot foods or fruits you peel for yourself
At this time, there is not a vaccine to help prevent development of Shigellosis.

Readers may also wish to read:
See more of Katrena's articles at the Fit Tips 4 Life site map.

References:
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention article Shigellosis accessed on 11/8/13.
  • FoodSafety.net article Shigella accessed on 11/8/13.
  • National Institutes of Health article Shigellosis accessed on 11/8/13.
  • Nemours KidsHealth article Shigella Infection accessed on 11/8/13.

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