Wednesday, July 18, 2001

Hand-washing urged to combat shigella outbreak

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Frequent hand-washing may be the best way to fight a diarrhea-causing illness that's reached epidemic proportions in Hamilton County.

    • Don't swim if you have diarrhea.
    • Don't swallow pool water.
    • Wash your hands with soap and water after using the toilet, before eating or preparing food, after using the bathroom, and after changing diapers or helping children in the bathroom.
    • Take kids on bathroom breaks often.
    • Change diapers in a bathroom and not at poolside.
    • Wash yourself and your children thoroughly (especially bottoms) with soap and water before swimming.
        Greater Cincinnati health care providers are warning anyone who deals with infants and toddlers to be on the lookout for the diarrhea-causing bacteria called shigella. Symptoms include fever, stomach cramps and nausea with or without vomiting.

        So far this year, the Cincinnati and Hamilton County health departments have reported 708 confirmed cases of shigellosis, mostly among diaper-age children and their caregivers. Of those, 539 have been documented since June 1, almost as many as the 574 confirmed cases for all of 2000.

        The Northern Kentucky Independent District Health Department — serving Boone, Kenton, Campbell and Grant counties — has seen 16 confirmed cases of shigellosis since June 1. In comparison, there were only two documented cases for all of last year.

        In Hamilton County, cases are happening “in just about every community,” although there are more in Cincinnati than in the suburbs, said Dr. Judith Daniels, medical director of the Cincinnati Health Department.

        Most of Northern Kentucky's cases are in Campbell and Kenton counties, with a couple of confirmed cases in Boone County, and none so far in Grant County, said Dr. Susy Kramer, medical director for Northern Kentucky's health department.

        Public health officials say they don't know why the numbers are so high.

        “If we knew where it was coming from, we might have a better avenue for attacking it,” Dr. Kramer said.

        What they do know is that the highly contagious disease is spread primarily through fecal-oral contact. Children or caregivers can catch the bug after changing a diaper or failing to wash their hands.

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