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What is Shigellosis?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 20 January 2018
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Shigellosis may be caused when people are exposed to several different bacteria called Shigella. The resultant intestinal illness usually resolves within about a week, but it can have complications that make recovery more difficult. It is also most commonly occurs in toddler age kids, but in some countries shigellosis may reach epidemic proportions, especially in developing countries where sanitation may be poor.

There are several types of Shigella bacteria and shigellosis generally results when people ingest them. This could happen if people don’t wash fruit and vegetables carefully, especially if they’ve been exposed to sewage, or if they drink or swim in water with the bacteria. Improper hygiene when using the restroom is another leading cause, and people can easily pass Shigella bacteria to each other, especially if they don’t wash hands after using the bathroom or changing an infected baby’s diapers.

The principle symptoms of shigellosis are severe diarrhea that often has mucus and blood in it. Fever could be present. Another symptom of Shigella infection is cramping in the stomach.

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Some people don’t require treatment, and the body will naturally rid itself of the bacterial infection in about a week, though it can take longer for bowel functioning to fully return to normal. However, treatment can be indicated if the diarrhea is very severe and this would include giving antibiotics to kill the bacteria. Sometimes other treatment like fluid replacement is necessary. One thing that should be avoided if people have shigellosis is taking anti-diarrhea medications because this may actually make matters worse and make it harder for the bacteria to leave the body.

Unfortunately, some people will experience a complicated course of shigellosis. Instead of getting better right away, they might continue to feel sick and different additional symptoms or conditions can develop. Since toddler age kids are most at risk for infection, one concern is fever, which can cause seizures. There appears to be some relationship between Shigella bacteria and febrile or seizure development, though precise relationship is not clear. Any seizures present in a child should mean getting emergency treatment.

Other complications include paralysis of the colon, called toxic megacolon, which stops the diarrhea. If a person can’t go to the bathroom and is feeling increasingly ill, they should see a doctor right away. Sometimes kidney failure may occur, though this is rare, and certain types of Shigella, especially Group B, might cause arthritis in a small percentage of the population. Another complication is rectal inflammation.

Under most circumstances, people will recover from shigellosis quickly, but this is not always the case. Should symptoms appear to be worsening, people should see a doctor to get diagnosis. Typically doctors diagnose this illness by testing a stool sample for presence of Shigella. Observing good handwashing practice at all times is important to lower risk of intestinal infections, and carefully washing fruits and veggies is valuable too. Those who travel to areas with poorer sanitation should avoid eating raw fruit and vegetables or drinking water that isn’t bottled.

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