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Shigellosis

Shigellosis is an infectious disease caused by a group of bacteria called Shigella. Symptoms normally develop within a day or two after being exposed to the bacterium and can include:

  • Diarrhoea – often bloody
  • Fever
  • Stomach cramps

Determining that Shigella is the cause of the illness depends on laboratory tests that identify it in the stools of an infected person. These tests are sometimes not performed unless the laboratory is instructed specifically to look for the organism. The laboratory can also do special tests to tell which type of Shigella the person has and which antibiotics, if any, would be best to treat it.

Persons with diarrhoea usually recover completely, although it may be several months before their bowel habits are entirely normal. About 3% of persons who are infected with one type of Shigella, Shigella flexneri, will later develop pains in their joints, irritation of the eyes, and painful urination. This is called Reiter's Syndrome. It can last for months or years, and can lead to Chronic Arthritis which is difficult to treat.

The Shigella bacteria passes from one infected person to the next. Shigella are present in the diarrhoeal stools of infected persons while they are sick and for a week or two afterwards. Most Shigella infections are the result of the bacterium passing from stools or soiled fingers of one person to the mouth of another person. This happens when basic hygiene and hand washing habits are inadequate.

Shigella infections may be acquired from eating contaminated food. Food may become contaminated by infected food handlers who forget to wash their hands after using the toilet. Vegetables can become contaminated if they are harvested from a field with sewage in it. Flies can breed in infected faeces and then contaminate food. Shigella infections can also be acquired by drinking or swimming in contaminated water. Water may become contaminated if sewage runs into it, or if someone with Shigellosis swims in it.

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