Thursday, July 12, 2001
Q: What is shigella?
A: Shigellosis is an infectious disease caused by a group of bacteria called shigella. Those infected typically develop diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps. The diarrhea is often bloody. Shigellosis usually resolves in five to seven days, though in some especially young children and the elderly the diarrhea can be severe enough for hospitalization.
Q: How common is it?
A: Every year, about 18,000 cases are reported nationwide. Because many milder cases are not diagnosed or reported, the actual number may be 20 times greater. Shigellosis is most common in summer, and can sometimes sweep through entire communities.
Q: How can Shigella infections be diagnosed?
A: A stool sample.
Q: How can shigella infections be treated?
A: Antibiotics, most commonly ampicillin, trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (brand names Bactrim or Septra), nalidixic acid or ciprofloxacin. Anti-diarrheal agents such as loperamide (Imodium) or diphenoxylate with atropine (Lomotil) are likely to make the illness worse and should be avoided.
Q: How do people catch it?
A: Most infections are the result of the bacterium passing from stools or soiled fingers of one person to the mouth of another person. This happens when basic hygiene and hand-washing habits are inadequate. It is particularly likely to occur among toddlers who are not fully toilet-trained and their families. Infections also may be acquired from eating contaminated food. Food may become contaminated by infected food handlers who forget to wash their hands with soap after using the bathroom.
Q: What can a person do to prevent this illness?
A: There is no vaccine, but frequent and careful hand washing with soap works. When possible, young children with a shigella infection should not be in contact with uninfected children. Anyone changing their diapers should dispose of the diapers in a closed-lid garbage can, wash their hands immediately, and wipe or spray the changing area with a disinfectant such as bleach, Lysol or bactericidal wipes.
Children or adults who have shigellosis should not prepare food or pour water for others until they have been shown to be free of the bacterium.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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