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Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 1, 2023.

What is shigellosis?

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

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

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 flooding, landslides, or earthquakes have recently happened.

How are shigella bacteria spread?

Shigella bacteria are 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 or she is sick and for up to 2 weeks after. The following are common ways the bacteria are spread:

  • The bacteria will stay on the hands of an infected person who does not wash his or her hands correctly or often enough. The person can spread the bacteria when he or she touches shared objects.
  • Water can become contaminated when it mixes with sewage, as in areas of flooding. The bacteria are also spread when bowel movement from an infected person gets into public swimming pools.
  • A person can contaminate food if he or she does not wash his or her hands before touching food. He or she 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.

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:

  • Drink more liquids, as directed. 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 that help prevent dehydration.
  • Antibiotics may be needed to kill the bacteria. Antibiotics are given for a severe shigellosis infection.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

How can I prevent the spread of shigella bacteria?

  • Wash your hands often. Wash your hands several times each day. Wash before you prepare or eat food, and after you use the bathroom or change a child's diaper. Use soap and water every time. Rub your soapy hands together, lacing your fingers. Wash the front and back of each hand, and in between your fingers. Use the fingers of one hand to scrub under the fingernails of the other hand. Wash for at least 20 seconds. Rinse with warm, running water for several seconds. Then dry your hands with a clean towel or paper towel. Use hand sanitizer that contains alcohol if soap and water are not available. Do not touch your mouth without washing your hands first.
  • Prepare food safely. Do not prepare food for others until you have had no diarrhea for at least 2 days. Keep raw meat, seafood, and eggs separate. Keep these away from other kinds of foods, such as fruits and vegetables. If possible, use separate cutting boards and knives for each kind of food. You can also wash cutting boards, cutting utensils, and dishes as you go. Use hot water and dish soap to wash items. Rinse each item under running water. Do not put food on any unwashed dish that raw meat, seafood, or eggs were on.
  • 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, turkey, seafood, or beef.
  • Store food properly. Refrigerate or freeze cooked foods and leftovers. Store raw and cooked foods separately.
  • Drink safe water. Do not drink water from ponds or lakes, or from swimming pools that do not contain chlorine.
  • Limit contact with others. Do not swim in public pools or go to work or school until you have had no diarrhea for 1 day.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You or your child has a seizure.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your abdomen is hard and swollen, and you are constipated.
  • You have a high fever or 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.

When should I call my doctor?

  • 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.

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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Further information

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