A group of bacteria called Shigella can cause an infection called Shigellosis in people. Some of these bacteria can also produce toxins that are similar to the toxins produced by Shigatoxin-producing E. coli (STEC), which is also a pathogen described in this section of the web page’s information. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 14,000 cases are reported in the U.S. every year. Because people with mild symptoms recover without being diagnosed there are probably many more cases that are never reported. This disease is required to be reported to the health department when it is diagnosed. The government routinely monitors by tracking the number of cases reported. Some strains of this pathogen have become antibiotic resistant over the years. CDC monitors antibiotic resistant strains through the National Antimicrobial Monitoring System (NARMS) program that routinely analyzes laboratory samples submitted for this research.
Symptoms of this illness usually appear eight to fifty hours after a person eats the contaminated food. The bacteria often get into food when sick people handle it without properly washing their hands after using the bathroom. The symptoms can include abdominal pain, cramps, diarrhea, fever and vomiting. The symptoms often disappear within three to five days. Sometimes antibiotics are given to kill the bacteria, which can shorten the duration of the illness. In high-risk populations such as the elderly and small children, the diarrhea and vomiting can lead to more severe problems such as dehydration that can require hospitalization. In the worst cases, this illness has been known to contribute to death in patients with weak immune systems. People rarely have long-term effects from this illness.
Infected people spread this disease to others because they do not use proper hand hygiene practices after using the bathroom. Children in diapers and their caretakers can spread the disease easily. Other sources of the illness can be contaminated water, improperly maintained swimming pools, flies and ready-to-eat foods like vegetables that have been sprayed with contaminated water. The infected person can pass the bacteria on while they are sick and up to a week or two after they stop having symptoms.
Tips for preventing the spread of this illness can be found on our tips page. To reduce the potential spread of Shigella additional control measures may be required for persons associated with high-risk activities or settings such as food handlers, childcare facility personnel, and health care workers. Specific guidance and recommendations can be found in a manual titled Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases. Additional guidance for retail food establishment management can be found in Chapter 2 of the food code.
For additional information on Shigella, please visit the following references: Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention website and FDA’s Bad Bug Book. For data on reported Shigellosis cases in Missouri, visit the communicable disease data and statistical reports page for the annual reports listed there.