Shigellosis

Overview

What is shigellosis?

Shigellosis is an infectious disease, caused by the Shigella bacteria, that produces stomach pain, diarrhea and fever in people who are infected. Shigella is very contagious. Shigellosis is a worldwide problem, especially in the developing world, but also in the United States, where there are approximately 500,000 cases every year. Travelers have contracted it, as well.

Shigellosis often occurs in locations that are crowded, including schools, day care centers, nursing homes or regions with poor sanitation.

Symptoms and Causes

What causes shigellosis?

Shigella are usually found in the stool (feces) of people who are infected. The bacteria are spread when someone comes into contact with the stool of an infected person, or with something that has been contaminated with the stool or the bacteria.

People get shigellosis by eating food or drinking water that has been contaminated, or through sexual contact with an infected person. Many foods can be contaminated, but it is typically uncooked vegetables or shellfish.

What are the symptoms of shigellosis?

Symptoms of shigellosis include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain and cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Dysentery (blood, pus and mucus in the stool)
  • Fever

In some cases, people who are infected with the Shigella bacteria do not have symptoms, but are still contagious.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is shigellosis diagnosed?

Shigellosis is diagnosed by testing a sample of the stool for the presence of the bacteria.

Management and Treatment

How is shigellosis treated?

Treatment for shigellosis depends on how severe it is. If your symptoms are mild, you can treat it with rest and by drinking fluids to prevent dehydration (a dangerous loss of water in the body).

You can also take bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) for the diarrhea. Do not take loperamide (Imodium) or diphenoxylate with atropine (Lomotil), because these drugs slow bowel function and keep the bacteria in your system.

In more severe cases of shigellosis, and for people with weak immune systems, doctors may prescribe an antibiotic to treat the infection.

What are the complications or side effects of shigellosis?

Shigellosis can cause dehydration because of the diarrhea. This condition can be very dangerous for elderly people and babies.

Prevention

Can shigellosis be prevented?

You can lessen your risk of getting shigellosis in the following ways:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly and often, especially before and after eating, after using the bathroom, before preparing food, and after coming into contact with an infected person.
  • Wash foods well and cook them well.
  • Avoid swallowing water in pools, lakes or ponds.
  • Throw away soiled diapers in a lined garbage can with a lid.
  • Follow safe food and water instructions when traveling in other countries.
  • Wait for a week after your partner has recovered from diarrhea before engaging in sexual activities.

Outlook / Prognosis

What is the outlook for people who have shigellosis?

Most people with shigellosis feel better in 4–7 days, but may still be contagious for up to 2 weeks after they recover. People who have severe infections may be sick for 3-6 weeks.

Living With

When should I call the doctor about shigellosis?

Call your doctor if you or someone in your family develop bloody diarrhea, fever or severe stomach cramps. If you have shigellosis and cannot keep down enough fluids to avoid dehydration, let your doctor know.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/04/2018.

References

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shigella – Shigellosis. (https://www.cdc.gov/shigella/general-information.html) Accessed 6/4/2018.
  • Foodsafety.gov. Shigella. (https://www.foodsafety.gov/poisoning/causes/bacteriaviruses/shigella/index.html) Accessed 6/4/2018.
  • Merck Manual Consumer Version. Shigellosis. (https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/infections/bacterial-infections-gram-negative-bacteria/shigellosis) Accessed 6/4/2018.

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