Shigella Infection

What is Shigella Infection?

Shigella infection is also known as shigellosis. It targets the gastrointestinal tract and causes unpleasant and uncomfortable symptoms such as diarrhea and blood in the stool.

The infection is caused by a strain of bacteria named shigella and spreads through fecal matter, oral-anal sexual practices and contaminated food and water. A few examples are:

  • Swallowing infected lake or swimming pool water
  • Eating produce from a garden that contains human waste
  • Food handling without handwashing

Poor hygiene is a main cause of shigella infection. When people do not practice good handwashing techniques, the infection can quickly and easily spread from one person to the next, even when they do not have symptoms.

It is easier to contract the infection in developing countries lacking water sanitation and hygiene.

What are the Symptoms of Shigella Infection?

Signs of shigella usually appear between 24 and 48 hours after exposure. The symptoms of shigella infection may be:

  • Abdominal pain and/or cramping
  • Temperature
  • Loose stool (often bloody and combined with mucous)

The feces of those with shigella can remain infectious for up to seven days after contraction. Although hospitalization is rarely required, the infection can be very serious in kids less than two years of age.

Shigella Infection Causes

Shigella infection (or shigellosis) happens when an individual is exposed to the shigella bacteria. The bacteria is spread through contaminated water, food or feces. The primary way an individual can get it is by drinking contaminated water, eating contaminated food, or (typically) changing the dirty diaper of a child who has the infection.

Toddlers and preschoolers are more likely than any other age group to be infected by the shigella bacteria. There are two reasons for it. The first reason why toddlers and children are infected more often is because of how they put their fingers in their mouth – with or without washing before they do so. The second has to do with the higher number of diaper changes in child care centers on any given day.

How is Shigella Infection Treated?

The treatment of shigella includes dehydration prevention. It is important to replenish the body with fluids and sodium. Antibiotics are another main course of treatment. Those with shigella should not take antidiarrheal medication since the bacteria is naturally expelled from the body through feces.

Shigella Infection Prevention

Because direct person to person contact is the most common way for shigella infection to spread, the best way to prevent it from doing so is to adopt (or continue practicing) good personal hygiene habits like washing hands and wiping things down after using them.

In addition, when a shigella infection is identified, the measures that should be taken to prevent it include:

  • washing your hands before and after using the bathroom or changing diapers
  • using soap and warm water every time you wash your hands
  • making sure to throw dirty diapers in a closed bag or lidded trash can so the bacteria has fewer places to spread
  • wiping down changing tables and kitchen counters with antibacterial wipes before and after you use them
  • avoiding (as much as possible) anyone you know who has the infection until the diarrhea has been gone for at least two days

If an individual is infected, they should avoid preparing food for others until after the diarrhea is gone and they are feeling better.

Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
November 07, 2017