Shigella infection (shigellosis) is an intestinal disease caused by a family of bacteria known as shigella. The main sign of shigella infection is diarrhea, which often is bloody.
Shigella can be passed through direct contact with the bacteria in the stool. For example, this can happen in a child care setting when staff members don't wash their hands well enough after changing diapers or helping toddlers with toilet training. Shigella bacteria also can be passed in contaminated food or by drinking or swimming in contaminated water.
Children under age 5 are most likely to get shigella infection, but it can occur at any age. A mild case usually clears up on its own within a week. When treatment is needed, doctors generally prescribe antibiotics.
Signs and symptoms of shigella infection usually begin a day or two after contact with shigella, but may take up to a week to develop. Signs and symptoms may include:
Although some people have no symptoms after they've been infected with shigella, their feces may still be contagious up to a few weeks.
Contact your doctor or seek urgent care if you or your child has bloody diarrhea or diarrhea severe enough to cause weight loss and dehydration. Also, contact your doctor if you or your child has diarrhea and a fever of 101 F (38 C) or higher.
Infection occurs when you accidentally swallow shigella bacteria. This can happen when you:
Shigella infection usually clears up without complications, although it may take weeks or months before your bowel habits return to normal.
Complications may include:
Although researchers continue their work to develop a shigella vaccine, nothing is available yet. To prevent the spread of shigella:
Diarrhea and bloody diarrhea can result from a number of diseases. Confirming shigellosis involves taking a sample of your stool to be tested in a laboratory for the presence of shigella bacteria or their toxins.
Shigella infection usually runs its course in five to seven days. Replacing lost fluids from diarrhea may be all the treatment you need, particularly if your general health is good and your shigella infection is mild.
Avoid drugs intended to treat diarrhea, such as loperamide (Imodium) or atropine (Lomotil), because they can make your condition worse.
For severe shigella infection, antibiotics may shorten the duration of the illness. However, some shigella bacteria have become drug resistant. So it's better not to take antibiotics unless your shigella infection is severe.
Antibiotics may also be necessary for infants, older adults and people who have HIV infection, as well as in situations where there's a high risk of spreading the disease.
For generally healthy adults, drinking water may be enough to counteract the dehydrating effects of diarrhea.
Children may benefit from an oral rehydration solution, such as Pedialyte, available in drugstores. Many pharmacies carry their own brands.
Children and adults who are severely dehydrated need treatment in a hospital emergency room, where they can receive salts and fluids through a vein (intravenously), rather than by mouth. Intravenous hydration provides the body with water and essential nutrients much more quickly than oral solutions do.
Most people who have shigella infection get well on their own and don't need to see a doctor. If you or your child has severe symptoms or a high fever, you may need treatment.
Before talking with your doctor, you may want to write a list of answers to the following questions:
During the physical exam, your doctor may press on various parts of your abdomen to check for pain or tenderness. He or she may also use a cotton swab to obtain a stool culture or send you home with instructions for collecting and transporting a sample of your stool so it can be tested for evidence of infection.