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Shigellosis - Topic Overview

What is shigellosis?

Shigellosis is a type of food poisoning caused by infection with the shigella bacterium. It is more common in summer than winter. Children ages 2 to 4 are most likely to get the condition.

What causes shigellosis?

Shigellosis is spread when the bacteria in feces (stool) or on soiled fingers are ingested. Poor hand-washing habits and eating contaminated food may cause the condition. Shigellosis is often found in day care centers, nursing homes, refugee camps, and other places where conditions are crowded and sanitation is poor.

  • Shigellosis is likely to occur among toddlers who are not fully toilet trained. Family members and playmates of infected children are also at high risk of becoming infected.
  • Food may become contaminated by infected food handlers who do not wash their hands with soap after using the bathroom.
  • Vegetables can be contaminated if they are harvested from a field that has sewage in it. Also, flies can breed in infected feces and then contaminate food.
  • Shigellosis can result from drinking or swimming in contaminated water. Water may become contaminated if sewage runs into it or if someone with shigellosis swims in it.
  • Shigellosis also can be spread through sex, especially through anal and oral sex.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of shigellosis include diarrhea (often bloody), fever, and stomach cramps starting 1 or 2 days after you are exposed to the bacteria. Shigellosis usually lasts 5 to 7 days. In some people, especially young children and older adults, the diarrhea can be so severe that a hospital stay is needed. Some people who are infected may have no symptoms at all but may still spread shigellosis to others.

How is shigellosis diagnosed?

Because many different diseases can cause a fever and bloody diarrhea, lab tests are the best way to diagnose shigellosis. Your doctor will most likely still do a physical exam and ask you questions about your symptoms, foods you have recently eaten, and your work and home environments. A stool culture confirms the diagnosis. Blood tests may be done if your symptoms are severe or to rule out other causes.

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