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.
Children between the ages of 2 and 4 are most likely to get shigella infection. A mild case usually clears up on its own within a week. When treatment is needed, doctors generally prescribe antibiotics.
Signs and symptoms of shigella infection usually begin a day or two after contact with shigella. Signs and symptoms may include:
Although some people have no symptoms after they've been infected with shigella, their feces are still contagious.
When to see a doctor
Infection occurs when you accidentally swallow shigella bacteria. This can happen when you:
Shigella infection usually clears up without complications, although it may take weeks or months before your bowel habits return to normal.
Complications may include:
Preparing for your appointment
Most people who have shigella infection get well on their own and don't need to see a doctor. If you or your child has severe symptoms or a high fever, you may need treatment.
What you can do
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Diarrhea and bloody diarrhea can result from a number of diseases. Confirming shigellosis involves taking a sample of your stool to be tested in a laboratory for the presence of shigella bacteria or their toxins.
Treatments and drugs
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) and diphenoxylate with atropine (Lomotil), because they can make your condition worse.
Antibiotics may also be necessary for infants, older adults and people who have HIV infection, as well as in situations where there's high risk of spreading the disease.
Fluid and salt replacement
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.
Although the World Health Organization has been working on a shigella vaccine, none is available yet. To prevent the spread of shigella:
Last Updated: 2012-08-24
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