Shigellosis

What is shigellosis?
Shigellosis is an intestinal infection caused by the Shigella bacteria. These bacteria live in the intestines of infected people and are a common cause of diarrhea, especially in developing countries.
How is shigellosis spread?  
Shigella bacteria are found in the feces (stool) of an infected person and are spread by direct person-to-person contact through the fecal-oral route. This means that feces (usually tiny, invisible amounts) from the sick or infected person must get into the mouth of another person for the infection to spread. This can happen if you eat food or drink water that has become contaminated, especially if it was handled by someone who was sick with shigellosis or by someone who has cared for a person or child sick with Shigella and has not properly washed his or her hands afterwards. Shigella bacteria can also be spread sexually, through contact with an infected person’s feces during sexual activities. Some people may also be infected with the bacteria and spread shigellosis to others, but not show any symptoms. Shigellosis may also continue to be spread from one person to another for a few weeks after symptoms end. Diaper changing is an example of an activity after which thorough hand washing is very important to prevent the spread of Shigella bacteria.
What are the symptoms of shigellosis?  
Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and usually appear 1 to 3 days (sometimes up to 7 days) after a person is in contact with the bacteria. In healthy people, symptoms may include diarrhea (sometimes bloody or with mucous), abdominal cramps, fever, nausea, vomiting and dehydration. Young children, the elderly, or people with weak immune systems may experience more severe symptoms and complications.
What is the treatment for shigellosis? 
Most people with shigellosis are ill for 4 to 7 days and recover with no treatment. Anyone with diarrhea should drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. If symptoms are persistent or severe, it is important to see a healthcare provider.
Are there any restrictions or special considerations for people ill with shigellosis?
Generally, people can return to work and school when they feel better and no longer have symptoms.  People who handle food as part of their work, those who provide health care services, and those who work in or attend a child care centre must stay home and away from work or daycare if they are sick with shigellosis. Ottawa Public Health will advise when they may return to work.
How can I protect myself and others against shigellosis? 
To prevent becoming ill with shigellosis:
  •  When travelling, avoid local water where the water supply is uncertain; instead use only sealed bottled water or treated (chemically disinfected or boiled) water for drinking, brushing teeth, preparing foods, making ice and cooking.
  • When travelling, beware of raw foods washed in local water; eat only cooked food and raw fruit that can be peeled after it has been washed with water from a safe source.
  • Do not eat raw seafood or fruits and vegetables that have been washed in untreated water; wash raw fruits and vegetables well with clean running water before eating.
  • Avoid contact with feces (stool) during sexual activity.
  • Wash your hands well with soap and water for at least 15 seconds before preparing food, before eating, after using the toilet, after changing a diaper, after sexual activity and anytime hands might be dirty.
  • Avoid preparing foods or drinks if you have diarrhea.
  • Avoid swallowing recreational water when swimming.
What is Ottawa Public Health’s role?
Ottawa Public Health (OPH) must be notified by health care providers and laboratories when a person is infected with shigellosis. OPH conducts an investigation to potentially determine the cause or source of infection, provides education to the infected person, and follows up with the infected person’s health care provider as necessary. OPH also investigates close contacts of a person for possible exposure. OPH will advise people ill with shigellosis and their contacts when they may return to work and child care. If a common source of illness is identified, OPH will provide follow-up investigation.  

For further information, call Ottawa Public Health at 613-580-6744

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