Dysentery is a gastrointestinal disease. Its causes include bacterial or parasitic infections. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever, nausea, vomiting, weight loss and stomach cramps. Your healthcare provider can diagnose dysentery with a stool culture. Treatment includes antibiotics.
Without proper treatment, dysentery can be fatal. If you have any symptoms of dysentery, reach out to your healthcare provider.
Anyone can get dysentery. It’s a more common condition in tropical areas of the world with poor water sanitation. Water sanitation is a process that cleans and purifies water, so it’s safe to drink.
You may also be more likely to get dysentery if you don’t practice good hygiene. You should always wash your hands after using the bathroom. If you don’t, you risk contaminating food, water and surfaces.
Dysentery is common. According to studies, there are about 1.7 billion cases of dysentery every year in the world.
Dysentery symptoms vary slightly according to what type of dysentery you have.
Most people who have amoebic dysentery don’t have any symptoms.
Mild symptoms of amoebic dysentery may include:
In rare cases, the parasite may move to other areas of your body and cause an abscess.
Symptoms of bacillary dysentery may include:
If you have severe dysentery, complications may include extreme inflammation, widening (dilation) of your large intestine and acute kidney disease.
Without proper treatment, dysentery may be fatal. It’s especially deadly to:
The parasitic and bacterial infections that cause dysentery are very contagious. People usually transfer the parasite or bacteria to each other when poop (fecal matter) from an infected person gets into another person’s mouth. Transmission can occur during:
Bacillary dysentery occurs when foreign bacteria enter your body and the infection becomes severe. Some of the most common bacteria that cause bacillary dysentery include:
Amoebiasis occurs when a particular parasite enters your body.
Yes, dysentery is very contagious. Amoebic dysentery usually spreads from contaminated food or water. It can also spread through oral-anal sexual contact.
Your healthcare provider will diagnose dysentery. They’ll ask about your symptoms, conduct a physical exam and order tests.
If your healthcare provider suspects you have dysentery, they’ll order a stool culture.
To conduct a stool culture, your healthcare provider will give you a special container and a disposable spoon. The next time you have to poop, you’ll place plastic wrap or newspaper across the rim of your toilet to collect your poop. You can also poop into a different container. You’ll then use the disposable spoon to collect a small sample, put it in the special container and return it to your healthcare provider.
Your healthcare provider will send your sample to a lab. There, lab workers will test your sample for the presence of bacteria, parasites or ova (parasite egg cells).
You may have to provide samples of your poop over several days.
Your healthcare provider may also recommend a sigmoidoscopy. A sigmoidoscopy can help your healthcare provider confirm the diagnosis or rule out other causes of your symptoms. During a sigmoidoscopy, your healthcare provider will use a special scope to examine the inside of your lower (sigmoid) colon and rectum.
If you have amebiasis, it’s important to rid your body of the parasite. Your healthcare provider will prescribe metronidazole (Flagyl®). This medication treats parasitic infections. Your healthcare provider may also prescribe antibiotics and recommend over-the-counter (OTC) medications to treat nausea, including bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol®).
If you have bacillary dysentery, most people feel better without treatment in a few days to a week. If you require medical attention, treatment may include antibiotics and IV fluids. In rare cases, you may need a blood transfusion.
If you have dysentery, it’s a good idea to:
If you have amebiasis, most people feel better after about 14 days. If you have bacillary dysentery, you should feel better within a week.
The best way to prevent dysentery is to practice good hygiene. Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and running water after going to the bathroom and before handling or eating food. Other ways to prevent dysentery include:
If you’re traveling to an area where dysentery is common, it’s also a good idea to avoid ice cubes, fountain drinks, water or soft drinks that aren’t in a sealed container and unpasteurized dairy and juice products. Pasteurization is a process that kills bacteria.
If you have dysentery, the following tips can help prevent you from spreading the infection:
If you have amebiasis, with proper diagnosis and treatment, your outlook is good. You should feel better after about 14 days. If you don’t get treatment, amebiasis can cause death.
If you have bacillary dysentery, most people feel better within a week without treatment. Others may develop serious complications which can be life-threatening. If you have dysentery symptoms for more than a few days, contact your healthcare provider.
Talk to your healthcare provider if your symptoms don’t go away in a few days, worsen over time or don’t respond to treatment. Seek medical attention right away if you have signs of dehydration, including:
Dysentery and cholera are gastrointestinal diseases. The difference between them is that they have different causes.
There are two main types of dysentery: amoebiasis and bacillary dysentery. Parasites cause amoebiasis, including E. histolytica, B. coli and strongyloidiasis. Bacteria cause bacillary dysentery, including Shigella, Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli.
The bacteria Vibrio cholera (V. cholera) causes cholera.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Dysentery is a gastrointestinal disease. Its primary symptom is diarrhea, which may be bloody or contain mucus. Causes include bacterial or parasitic infections. Though many people with dysentery feel better after a few days without medical treatment, dysentery can be fatal, especially to young children, people over 50 and dehydrated or malnourished people. If you have a parasitic infection or other serious complications, it’s important to see your healthcare provider.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/15/2022.
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