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Fact Sheet: Shigellosis

What is shigellosis?

Shigellosis is a bacterial infection that affects the guts. It is one of the more common causes of diarrhea (frequent and watery bowel movements). Most cases are seen in the summer and early fall and occur as single cases or outbreaks.


Who gets shigellosis?

Anyone can get shigellosis, but it is recognized more often in young children. Those who may be at greater risk include children in day-care centers, travelers to certain foreign countries, institutionalized or hospitalized people, and men who have sex with other men.


How is the shigellosis germ spread?

The shigella bacteria are passed in the bowl movements of infected persons. Shigella bacteria are spread by direct contact with an infected person, or by eating or drinking food or water that has been contaminated with feces.


What are the symptoms?

People with shigellosis may have diarrhea, often with fever, cramps, and traces of blood or mucus in the bowel movement. Some infected people may not show any symptoms.


How soon do symptoms appear?

Symptoms may appear one to seven days after exposure, but usually within two to three days.


When and for how long is a person able to spread shigellosis?

Most infected people pass Shigella in their bowel movements (feces) for one to two weeks. Certain prescription medications may shorten the "carrier phase" or the time that the Shigella bacteria remain in the gut.


Should infected people be restricted or excluded from work or school?

Only people who are unable to control their bowel movements should be restricted in their daily activities or contact with others (babies, young children, or some disabled persons). Most infected persons may return to work or school when their diarrhea stops, if they carefully wash their hands after using the toilet. Food handlers, children in day care and health-care workers must obtain the approval of the local health department before returning to their regular activities.


How is shigellosis treated?

Most people with shigellosis will recover without any treatment. Some may require fluids to prevent dehydration (loss of body fluids). Antibiotics are sometimes used to treat severe cases or to shorten the time during which the bacteria can be spread. This may be important for food handlers, health care workers, children in day care or institutionalized or hospitalized individuals.

What can be done to prevent the spread of shigellosis?

The best way to prevent Shigella from spreading is to wash your hands thoroughly after using the toilet.
If you think you may have shigellosis it is a good idea to contact your doctor or health clinic for information on where you can get tested. If you can't afford a doctor and/or are not currently on a health plan or insurance, call 1-800-SAFENET (723-3638) for information on low-cost clinics near you.

Issued by: The Oregon Health Services
Date: April, 1997; Updated January 2001
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