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Shigellosis

What is shigellosis?
Shigellosis is an infection that affects the intestines. It is caused by the bacteria (germs), Shigella. It is a fairly common infection, especially among young children. For data on shigellosis in New York City visit EpiQuery.
Who gets shigellosis?
Anyone can get shigellosis, but it is seen most often in young children. Those who may be at greater risk include children in day care centers, travelers to certain foreign countries, men who have sex with men, and individuals living in institutional settings (for example: nursing homes, shelters, prisons, etc).
How is the Shigella germ spread?
Shigella germs are found in the intestinal tract of infected people and are passed in their stool (feces). The Shigella germ is spread by eating or drinking contaminated food or water, or by direct contact with an infected person. Sexual practices that allow oral or hand contact with stool (feces) may also result in spread.
What are the symptoms?
People exposed to the Shigella germ may experience mild or severe diarrhea, often with fever, nausea, and cramps. There may be traces of blood or mucous in the stool. Some infected people may not show any symptoms.
How soon after infection do symptoms appear?
The symptoms may appear 1 to 7 days after exposure, but usually within 2 to 3 days.
When and for how long is a person able to spread shigellosis?
Most people pass Shigella in their stool (feces) for one to four weeks.
How is shigellosis diagnosed?
Shigellosis is diagnosed by checking the patient's stool (feces) for the Shigella germ.
What is the treatment for shigellosis?
Most people with shigellosis will recover on their own. Some may require fluids to prevent dehydration. Antibiotics are occasionally used to treat severe cases, but generally not recommended.
Should an infected person stay home from work or school?
Since the Shigella bacteria are passed in the stool (feces) of an infected person, people with active diarrhea who are unable to control their bowel habits (e.g., infants, young children, certain handicapped individuals) should stay home until the diarrhea has stopped. Most infected people may return to work or school when their stools become formed (solid), as long as they carefully wash their hands after using the toilet. Food handlers, children in day care, and health care workers must obtain the approval of the Health Department before returning to their routine activities. This requires follow-up stool testing to be sure that they are no longer infectious.
What can be done to prevent the spread of shigellosis?
Wash hands often.

Since germs are passed in stool (feces), the single most important prevention activity is frequent and careful hand washing with soap and warm running water after using the toilet or changing diapers.

Take extra care when traveling.

When traveling to developing countries, simple precautions can prevent disease.

  • Drink bottled water, or boil water for drinking.
  • Only eat food that has been thoroughly cooked.
  • Avoid raw fruits and vegetables that you did not wash or peel yourself,
Protect yourself and others.

Persons with any diarrheal illness should avoid any sexual practice that may expose a partner to their stool (feces). Avoid unprotected sexual practices that may result in hand or mouth exposure to stool, such as anal sex or oral-anal contact.

Last Updated: March 2012