What Is Shigella?
Shigellosis is an acute bacterial infection that spreads through the lining of the intestines. It’s caused by a group of bacteria called Shigella. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that 14,000 cases of Shigellosis are documented each year. Since not all cases require hospital treatment or are even reported, the actual figure may be 20 times higher. The most common strains of the bacteria include:
- Shigella sonnei (“group D” Shigella)
- Shigella flexneri (“group B” Shigella)
- Shigella dysenteriae
The germ, named after the Japanese scientist who discovered it over a century ago, can cause deadly endemics – especially in the developing world. Just a tiny ingestion of the bacteria can trigger a wide range of symptoms, which generally last five to seven days. Though hospitalization is rare, severe infection can lead to seizures and produce particularly dangerous symptoms for children.
According to data collected by the CDC, there were 37 Shigella outbreaks in the United States between 2011 and 2015. During this time, there were 774 illnesses, 92 hospitalizations, and no deaths resulting from the various outbreaks.
Shigella Outbreaks, Illnesses, and Hospitalizations per Year (2011-2015)
What Are the Symptoms of Shigellosis?
The bacteria produces toxins that attack the lining of large intestines, so the majority of symptoms are related to the digestive system. The severity of shigellosis is what differentiates it from “normal” diarrhea. The first bowel movements are often large and watery, with subsequent movements containing blood and mucus. Other symptoms of Shigella infection include, but are not limited to:
- Painful bowel movements
- High fever
- Abdominal cramps
- Nausea, vomiting
- Loss of appetite
In severe cases, shigellosis may result in seizures, confusion, and dehydration, which can then lead to other complications, such as kidney failure. For most people, however, the primary symptoms are bloody diarrhea and a fever that lasts 24-48 hours. A considerable portion of infected people are even asymptomatic with the poisoning.
How Does Shigella Spread?
Shigella is unique because it passes from person to person. It’s a family of bacteria that is known primarily for causing diarrhea. The germs of diarrheal stools must be present to infect another person. In short, most Shigella infections result from poor hygiene and failing to wash hands, which results in the bacteria traveling from the stool of one person to the mouth of another. Soiled fingers and certain types of sexual activities are the main culprits of Shigellosis.
Shigellosis is particularly common among toddlers, primarily because they’re not fully toilet-trained. Parents and family members of young children, as well as their playmates, are also susceptible to Shigella infection. Contamination doesn’t have to be direct. For instance, swimming in the same pool as someone with Shigellosis exposes you to contaminated water, thus, outbreaks tend to be localized.
How Can You Prevent Shigellosis?
Since the primary reason for the spread of Shigellosis is poor hygiene, the best way to prevent infection is to wash your hands after using the restroom, before handling food, and frequently throughout the day. If you have children at home, it’s critical to encourage them to wash their hands as well, especially if they stay in a daycare center or a babysitter’s home throughout the day.
Disinfecting diaper stations at home, in addition to disposing diapers properly in the trash, will help prevent shigellosis. Basic food safety precautions are critical to protecting your health. If you are traveling to a developing country, it’s important to be intentional about washing your hands and paying attention to hygiene. In the event you or a loved one contracts Shigella due to the negligence of another party, such as a restaurant or your child’s daycare, contact a dedicated Shigella lawyer. You may be entitled to compensation for your injuries.
Is Shigellosis a Public Health Problem?
The CDC monitors the frequency of infections around the country, helping localized authorities investigate, stem, and prevent outbreaks. There is currently no vaccine for shigellosis, though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) monitors imported food and supports healthier food preparation in restaurants and processing plants. The government is currently invested in research to develop a Shigella vaccine.
Discussing public health problems and concerns with your primary healthcare provider will ensure that you’re kept up to date with the latest information to keep you and your family safe. Again, the most effective steps to prevent Shigella infection include washing your hands frequently and carefully, properly disposing of diapers, disinfecting the bathroom and diaper changing areas, and not preparing food while symptoms are present.
Click here to learn about other types of food poisoning