NEW YORK CITY – May 2, 2008 – The Health Department today notified Orthodox Jewish residents of the Borough Park and Williamsburg communities in Brooklyn of an ongoing outbreak of shigella, an intestinal infection. So far this year, the two communities have had more than 150 cases of shigella, more than half of them among very young children. In the hardest-hit area – zip code 11219 – 60 people have been infected. The Health Department is working with community leaders, including rabbis and City Council members, to raise awareness of the outbreak and to provide advice on prevention.
Shigella is a bacterial infection which is spread when food or water become contaminated with microscopic amounts of fecal matter from an infected person. It spreads when people do not wash hands well enough and have a tiny amount of infected stool on their hands, after using the bathroom or changing a diaper. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever, nausea and cramps. Shigella infections can last several weeks, and people typically recover without treatment. Antibiotics should only be given for severe cases as the shigella bacteria causing the outbreak in Brooklyn are already resistant to many common antibiotics. To avoid spreading the infection, people who are sick should drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and should stay home from work or school until they are better. If you think you may be infected, call your doctor.
Because shigella spreads through fecal matter, prevention requires washing hands frequently and carefully with soap and warm, running water. Everyone should wash their hands for 20 seconds after using the toilet or changing diapers, and before eating or preparing food. If residents perform ritual hand washing (Asher Yatsar) after using the bathroom, they should also wash their hands with soap and warm water.
Shigella spreads easily among young children in daycare and preschool environments. Parents, teachers and caregivers should help young children wash their hands thoroughly and should make sure it is done properly. It takes very few shigella bacteria to cause illness.
"We encourage residents to be vigilant about hand-washing," said Dr.Sharon Balter, Medical Epidemiologist in the Health Department’s Bureau of Communicable Disease. “Visit your doctor if you are sick, and stay home until you are well. It is especially important for children to stay home from school or day care when sick so that they don’t spread the disease to other kids.”
Large outbreaks of shigella have occurred in recent decades in traditionally observant Jewish communities in Borough Park, Williamsburg and other parts of New York State, New Jersey, Illinois, Maryland and Canada. Some 274 cases of shigella were reported in New York City in 2006, a rate of 3.4 cases per 100,000 people.