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What is shigellosis?

Shigellosis is an infection of the intestines caused by shigella bacteria.

How are shigella bacteria spread?

Shigella bacteria spread through direct contact. This happens when bowel movement from an infected person gets into the mouth of another person. An infected person can spread the bacteria while he is sick and for up to 2 weeks after:

  • The bacteria will stay on the hands of an infected person who does not wash his hands correctly or often enough. The person can spread the bacteria when he touches shared objects.
  • Water can become contaminated when it mixes with sewage, as in areas of flooding. Public swimming pools are also sources for spreading the infection. The bacteria are spread when bowel movement from an infected person gets into the water.
  • Food can become contaminated through improper handling. The person handling the food might not have washed his hands before he touched the food. He may not have cooked the food thoroughly. Food can also be contaminated if it is grown in a field that contains sewage.
  • The bacteria can be spread during certain types of sexual activity.

What increases my risk for shigellosis?

  • You live or work in a skilled nursing facility.
  • You work in a daycare center, or your child goes to daycare.
  • You swim in a public swimming pool, or you go to a bathhouse.
  • You travel to an area that has poor sanitation.
  • You go to an area where there has recently been flooding, landslides, or earthquakes.

What are the signs and symptoms of shigellosis?

Any of the following may begin up to 7 days after you are exposed to the bacteria:

  • Fever
  • Watery or bloody diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps and tenderness
  • Multiple bowel movements with blood, mucus, and pus
  • A need to strain to have a bowel movement
  • A feeling that your bowels are not completely empty

How is shigellosis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine you and ask about your symptoms. Your blood or bowel movements may be tested for shigella bacteria.

How is shigellosis treated?

Do not take medicines to stop your diarrhea. These medicines may make the infection last longer. Shigellosis usually lasts 5 to 7 days. You may need any of the following to treat the infection or to ease your symptoms:

  • Liquids: Ask your healthcare provider how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you. You may need to drink an oral rehydration solution (ORS). An ORS has electrolytes, which can help prevent dehydration.
  • Antibiotics: You may be given antibiotics if you have severe shigellosis infection. These will kill the bacteria.

What are the risks of shigellosis?

You may develop dehydration. Your child may have a seizure. The infection may spread to your blood or organs. You may develop painful joints, eye irritation, and painful urination. This is known as reactive arthritis. You may develop long-term arthritis. Life-threatening conditions may develop, such as kidney failure, a tear in your bowel, paralyzed intestine, and coma.

How can I prevent the spread of shigella bacteria?

  • Wash your hands often: Wash your hands in warm, soapy water for 20 seconds. Wash your hands before you prepare or eat food. Wash after you use the bathroom, sneeze, or change a child's diaper. Place soiled diapers from an infected child in a trash can with a tight lid. Use a disinfectant or diluted bleach to clean the diaper changing area. Then wash your hands and the child's hands. Help young children and older adults with hand washing after they use the bathroom.
  • Limit contact with others: Do not swim in public pools or go to work or school until you have had no diarrhea for at least 1 day.
  • Cook food all the way through: Cook eggs until the yolks are firm. Use a meat thermometer to make sure meat is heated to a temperature that will kill bacteria Do not eat raw or undercooked chicken and turkey, seafood, or meat. Do not prepare food for others until you have had no diarrhea for at least 2 days.
  • Store food properly: Refrigerate or freeze fruits and vegetables, cooked foods, and leftovers.
  • Drink safe water: Drink only treated water. Do not drink water from ponds or lakes, or from swimming pools that do not contain chlorine.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You have severe abdominal pain.
  • Your diarrhea gets worse.
  • You are dizzy or weak.
  • You have pain in your joints.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • Your child has a seizure.
  • Your abdomen is hard and swollen, and you are constipated.
  • You have high fever and severe chills.
  • You have severe nausea and are vomiting.
  • Your mouth is dry, your lips are cracked, and you are thirsty.
  • You are urinating less or not at all.
  • Your heartbeat or breathing is faster than usual.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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