Shigella dysentery, also known as Shigellosis, is an infection of the intestinal tract caused by bacteria called Shigella. Shigella bacteria are highly contagious and are spread by a route known in medicine as be “fecal-oral” route. This means that they contaminate food, water, clothing and dirty hands and skin. Essentially any unsanitary condition can aid the spread of the bacteria.
There is typically a delay of between one to five days from exposure to the onset of the first symptoms of shigellosis. Because of this, and the ease with which the bacteria spreads, epidemic outbreaks are quite common in susceptible populations. The Shigella bacteria invade a person, and settle in the lining of the intestinal tract. From there they begin to multiply and cause damage to the local tissues in the intestines.
The most obvious symptom of Shigella infection is the massive amount of diarrhea at causes. An infected person can experience literally dozens of episodes of explosive, watery diarrhea every day. The diarrhea can often contain blood. The diarrhea usually lasts just under a week. Five to seven days is typical for this infection.
Other symptoms are generally related to the gastrointestinal system. Abdominal cramping, vomiting, and nausea are all quite common. Most people have some fever as well.
In extremely severe cases, it is possible for Shigella to cause convulsions and seizures. Headaches, confusion and extreme fatigue are also possible in severe cases.
Shigella dysentery is relatively uncommon in America. Risk increases if you travel to foreign countries, especially to poorer nations. In addition, the infection is more commonly seen during the summer months.
People living in crowded and unsanitary conditions are at greatly increased risk because of the way the bacteria spread. In the past, large epidemic outbreaks have taken place in populations of civilian refugee camps during wars. This is mostly due to the crowded conditions and lack of proper sanitation.
Despite the seeming severity of the symptoms, sigellosis rarely requires hospitalization to control the infection. Mild cases of shigellosis are often allowed to resolve without active treatment. In more moderate or severe cases, antibiotics can be given to help fight the infection. These antibiotics can help reduce the severity of the symptoms and speed up recovery by a couple of days. In small children, who are at greater risk for dehydration, these few days can be a big help.
Interestingly, medications used to treat diarrhea can make this illness worse. As such, they are not recommended.
There are many causes of diarrhea, especially in children. If you or your child are experiencing diarrhea that just doesn’t seem “normal”, get yourself in to a doctor and get it checked out. While there are good odds that it’s not shigella, you should get medical attention regardless of the cause.