Q. I recently heard about a Shigella outbreak. What is Shigella and what should we do to protect ourselves from catching it?
A. Shigella are a group of bacteria that can cause shigellosis, which is characterized by fever, stomach cramping and diarrhea. Symptoms typically appear within two days of exposure. Many cases are mild and resolve within a few days. In some instances, however, Shigella may cause high fever, severe cramping and bloody diarrhea – distinguishing it from more common viral intestinal infections.
The diagnosis of shigellosis is made by culturing a stool specimen. Once diagnosed, shigellosis is typically treated with antibiotics.
Shigella are most commonly spread person to person via fecal contamination. In other words, the bacteria in diarrhea stools can find their way (via contaminated hands) to the mouths of others. For this reason, hand washing is the most important way to prevent the disease from spreading.