Dramatic Increase in South Central Idaho Shigella Cases

The number of Shigella cases reported in South Central Idaho this year has already surpassed the total number of cases reported in 2015, the South Central Public Health District of Idaho said Thursday.

Since January 1, 2016, 14 cases of shigellosis, also known as Shigella, have been reported in just four counties: Twin Falls, Minidoka, Blaine, and Jerome. Contrast that with the 17 total cases reported during the full year of 2015.

“We’ve had sporadic cases over the years, a few every year,” said Tanis Maxwell, an epidemiologist with the health district. She continued, saying “we’ve seen an increase of it since 2015, where we’ve had a larger number that have been reported.”

“Carriers”: Infecting Others Without Feeling Sick

One factor complicating the situation is that people can act as “carriers” of the disease, transmitting the infection without ever displaying symptoms themselves.

According to the CDC, a carrier is “a person with inapparent infection who is capable of transmitting the pathogen to others. Asymptomatic or passive or healthy carriers are those who never experience symptoms despite being infected.”

Carriers, because they do not realize they are infected, do not tale special precautions to prevent transmission of the disease. This factor is what commonly results in the transmission of the disease.

On the other hand, the CDC points to symptomatic persons who are aware of their illness. These individuals may be less likely to transmit infection because “they are either too sick to be out and about, take precautions to reduce transmission, or receive treatment that limits the disease.”

It is important to note that there have been no confirmed carriers of the disease in this case.

Idaho Epidemiologist Explains Shigella

“Many people are unfamiliar with Shigella and what causes it,” Maxwell said in a recent news release. She continued, stating that “Shigella is a bacteria present in the fecal matter of an infected individual.”
Shigella can be transmitted when people swallow something that has even a trace of the stool of an infected person, or something that has come into contact with the stool of an infected person. While this may sound implausible, the microscopic amount required to cause the disease makes it more likely than one may think:
Contamination can occur in any of the following situations:
  • Swallowing water, such as lake, river or pool water, while swimming;
  • Eating food that has been become contaminated when food handlers with the illness have come into contact with the food; or
  • Contaminated hands come into contact with your food or mouth.
Most people who contract the illness usually get over it in five to seven days, Maxwell said, although antibiotic treatment can shorten the infection by a few days. Most people don’t require hospitalization, although younger children can be vulnerable to additional problems, especially if they run a high fever with it.

The best way to prevent Shigella, Maxwell said, is to wash your hands with soap and water before preparing any food or after going to the bathroom or changing a diaper.

“Really good hand hygiene will help prevent the spread of this,” she said. “The bacteria is usually spread person to person through the stool of an infected person.”

“This is a good reminder of how important it is to wash your hands thoroughly after using the restroom, changing a diaper, or before preparing food.

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