What is shigellosis?

Shigellosis is an intestinal illness caused by a group of bacteria called Shigella. Common symptoms include diarrhea (sometimes bloody), abdominal cramps, nausea, and fever. Symptoms usually begin within 2 days after exposure to Shigella and typically last for 5 to 7 days.  Many people may have mild disease that gets better without medical treatment and will recover fully. However, some people, especially young children, older adults, and persons with weakened immune systems, may have severe disease that requires hospitalization.  A small number of people can develop complications such as blood stream infections, seizures, kidney failure or arthritis.

How does Shigella spread?

Shigella is very infectious and spreads easily. An infected person sheds Shigella bacteria in their stool while they are sick and often for more than a week afterwards, and can spread the bacteria if they do not wash their hands well after using the toilet. Shigella spreads from person-to-person by close personal contact (such contacts to infected diapered children) or exposure to feces of an infected person during sexual contact. It also spreads by eating foods or liquids contaminated by an infected person, or swallowing untreated recreational water (such as lakes or water park play fountains) contaminated with Shigella. Health care providers are required by law to report cases of shigellosis to the local health department. To prevent the spread of Shigella, local health departments are required to restrict activities of people with shigellosis who work in certain settings, such as day care, food-related businesses, and health care workers who have direct patient contact, until they are no longer infectious.

How is shigellosis diagnosed and treated?

A health care provider diagnoses shigellosis by collecting a sample of stool and sending it to a microbiology laboratory. Shigella may also be found in the blood, but this is not common.  Although some patients do not require medical treatment, more severely ill patients may need intravenous rehydration and antibiotics.

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