By Robert Preidt
THURSDAY, April 2, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- A drug-resistant strain of bacteria that causes diarrhea is spreading in the United States, federal health officials warned Thursday.
Travelers are bringing a drug-resistant strain of the Shigella sonnei bacteria to the United States and spreading it to other people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"These outbreaks show a troubling trend in Shigella infections in the United States," Dr. Tom Frieden, CDC director, said in an agency news release.
Shigella, which causes about 500,000 cases of diarrhea in the United States every year, spreads easily from person to person through contaminated food and water.
The bacteria can spread especially quickly among certain groups, such as youngsters in child care facilities, homeless people, and gay and bisexual men, which is what happened in the recent clusters, according to the CDC report.
"Drug-resistant infections are harder to treat and because Shigella spreads so easily between people, the potential for more -- and larger -- outbreaks is a real concern," Frieden said. "We're moving quickly to implement a national strategy to curb antibiotic resistance because we can't take for granted that we'll always have the drugs we need to fight common infections."
In the United States, most Shigella is already resistant to the antibiotics ampicillin and trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole. Worldwide, Shigella resistance to Cipro is on the rise, the CDC said in the news release.
Cipro is often prescribed for Americans who visit other countries in case they develop diarrhea while traveling. Further research is needed to learn what, if any, role the use of antibiotics by travelers may play in the growing risk of antibiotic-resistant diarrhea infections among American travelers after they return home, the CDC researchers suggested.
"The increase in drug-resistant Shigella makes it even more critical to prevent shigellosis from spreading," report author Dr. Anna Bowen, a medical officer in CDC's Waterborne Diseases Prevention Branch, said in the news release.
"Washing your hands with soap and water is important for everyone. Also, international travelers can protect themselves by choosing hot foods and drinking only from sealed containers," she said.
Due to the spread of Cipro-resistant Shigella, doctors should use lab tests to determine which antibiotics -- if they are needed -- will effectively treat people with shigellosis, the CDC said.
The report is published in the April 3 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.