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Definition

What is shigella infection?

Shigella infection (shigellosis) is an intestinal disease caused by a family of bacteria known as shigella. The main sign of shigella infection is diarrhea, which often is bloody.

Shigella can be passed through direct contact with the bacteria in the stool. For example, this can happen in a child care setting when staff members don’t wash their hands well enough after changing diapers or helping toddlers with toilet training. Shigella bacteria also can be passed in contaminated food or by drinking or swimming in contaminated water.

How common is shigella infection?

Children between the ages of 2 and 4 are most likely to get shigella infection. The number of shigellosis cases reported annually to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has varied over the past several years, from more than 17,000 during 1978–2003, to an all-time low of 14,000 in 2004, to almost 20,000 in 2007. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of shigella infection?

The common symptoms of shigella infection are:

  • Diarrhea (sometimes bloody)
  • Fever
  • Abdominal pain
  • Tenesmus (a painful sensation of needing to pass stools even when bowels are empty)

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

Contact your doctor or seek urgent care if you or your child has bloody diarrhea or diarrhea severe enough to cause weight loss and dehydration. Also, contact your doctor if you or your child has diarrhea and a fever of 101 F (38 C) or higher.

Causes

What causes shigella infection?

Infection occurs when you accidentally swallow shigella bacteria. This can happen when you:

  • Touch your mouth. If you don’t wash your hands well after changing the diaper of a child who has shigella infection, you may become infected yourself. Direct person-to-person contact is the most common way the disease is spread.
  • Eat contaminated food. Infected people who handle food can transmit the bacteria to people who eat the food. Food can also become contaminated if it grows in a field that contains sewage.
  • Swallow contaminated water. Water may become contaminated either from sewage or from a person with shigella infection swimming in it.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for shigella infection?

There are many risk factors for shigella infection, such as:

  • Being a toddler. Shigella infection is most common in children between the ages of 2 and 4.
  • Living in group housing or participating in group activities. Close contact with other people spreads the bacteria from person to person. Shigella outbreaks are more common in child care centers, community wading pools, nursing homes, jails and military barracks.
  • Living or traveling in areas that lack sanitation. People who live or travel in developing countries are more likely to contract shigella infection.
  • Being a sexually active gay male. Men who have sex with men are at higher risk because of direct or indirect oral-anal contact.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is shigella infection diagnosed?

Many different kinds of germs can cause diarrhea, so establishing the cause will help guide treatment. Healthcare providers can order laboratory tests to identify Shigella in the stools of an infected person. The laboratory can also do special tests to determine which antibiotics, if any, would be best to treat the infection.

How is shigella infection treated?

Shigella infection usually runs its course in five to seven days. Replacing lost fluids from diarrhea may be all the treatment you need, particularly if your general health is good and your shigella infection is mild.

Avoid drugs intended to treat diarrhea, such as loperamide (Imodium) or atropine (Lomotil), because they can make your condition worse.

Antibiotics

For severe shigella infection, antibiotics may shorten the duration of the illness. However, some shigella bacteria have become drug resistant. So it’s better not to take antibiotics unless your shigella infection is severe.

Antibiotics may also be necessary for infants, older adults and people who have HIV infection, as well as in situations where there’s a high risk of spreading the disease.

Fluid and salt replacement

For generally healthy adults, drinking water may be enough to counteract the dehydrating effects of diarrhea.

Children may benefit from an oral rehydration solution, such as Pedialyte, available in drugstores. Many pharmacies carry their own brands.

Children and adults who are severely dehydrated need treatment in a hospital emergency room, where they can receive salts and fluids through a vein (intravenously), rather than by mouth. Intravenous hydration provides the body with water and essential nutrients much more quickly than oral solutions do.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage shigella infection?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with shigella infection:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly
  • Supervise small children when they wash their hands
  • Dispose of soiled diapers properly
  • Disinfect diaper-changing areas after use
  • Don’t prepare food for others if you have diarrhea
  • Keep children with diarrhea home from child care, play groups or school
  • Avoid swallowing water from ponds, lakes or untreated pools
  • Avoid sexual activity with anyone who has diarrhea or who recently recovered from diarrhea

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: August 1, 2017 | Last Modified: August 1, 2017

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