Shigella is responsible for causing shigellosis which is an infectious disease. Almost every year, thousands of shigellosis cases are reported. Most of the mild cases are not properly diagnosed and reported, thus the actual number of infections might be higher.
It is important to note that shigellosis is quite common in settings in which hygiene is poor and can oftentimes spread through communities. An infection due to shigella is quite common in summer than the winter season.
Children particularly toddlers 2-4 years old are more likely to become infected by shigella. Most cases are linked to the spread of illness in child-care settings and others are due to the spread of the illness in families with young children. In addition, shigella is quite common in developing countries and usually present in communities most of the time.
If an individual acquires the condition, he/she is not at risk to become infected with the specific type of shigella for a minimum of several years. Nevertheless, they can still become infected with other types of shigella.
What are the indications of shigella infection?
The symptoms typically start in 1-2 days after an individual has been exposed to the causative bacterium and usually settle within 5-7 days. In some individuals who are sick, they do not have any symptoms at all but still capable of spreading the bacteria to others. The usual symptoms include the following:
- Diarrhea, usually blood-streaked
- Abdominal cramps
In some individuals particularly the elderly and young children, the diarrhea can be severe which requires hospitalization due to the risk of dehydration.
A severe infection accompanied by high fever might also be linked with seizures in children younger than 2 years old. A small percentage of individuals who are infected with one type specifically shigella flexneri can later on develop Reiter’s syndrome which has the following symptoms:
- Eye irritation
- Joint pain
- Painful urination
Remember that Reiter’s syndrome is triggered by a reaction to shigella infection that only occurs among individuals who are predisposed genetically. The condition can last for months or years and even progress to chronic arthritis.
Management of shigella infection
The diarrhea instigate by shigellosis can eventually lead to dehydration that requires treatment with the administration of IV fluids. Once a community is affected by this condition, antibiotics are oftentimes used selectively to treat severe cases. In addition, anti-diarrheal agents will only worsen the condition and must be avoided.
How shigella spreads
It is important to note that shigella is usually present in the stool of infected individuals while they are sick and even after 1-2 weeks. Most infections are passed from stools or soiled fingers of one individual to the mouth of another individual usually due to poor hygiene and hand washing habits. This is quite common among toddlers who are not yet fully toilet-trained.
Shigella infection can also be acquired from eating contaminated food. Infections can also occur by drinking or swimming in contaminated water. Take note that water can become contaminated if sewage runs through it or if an individual with the infection swims in it.