Shigella

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What is Shigella?

Shigella bacteria can cause an infection in the intestines.


What are the symptoms of Shigella infection?

Most people with Shigella infection experience:

  • Diarrhea that can be bloody.
  • Fever.
  • Stomach pain.
  • Feeling the need to pass stool even when the bowels are empty.

Symptoms usually start one to two days after infection and last seven days. In some cases, frequency and consistency of stool do not return to normal for several months.


How does Shigella spread?

Shigella can spread easily. People with a Shigella infection can transmit the illness to others for several weeks after their diarrhea ends.

You can get infected by swallowing Shigella. Some ways Shigella can get into your mouth are:

  • Getting Shigella on your hands and touching your mouth. Shigella can get on your hands by:
     
    • Touching surfaces, such as toys, bathroom fixtures, changing tables, and diaper pails contaminated with Shigella bacteria.
    • Changing the diaper of a child with a Shigella infection.
    • Taking care of a person with an infection, including cleaning up after the person uses the toilet.
       
  • Eating food prepared by someone with a Shigella infection.
  • Swallowing recreational water, such as lake water or improperly treated swimming pool water.
  • Swallowing contaminated drinking water, such as water from a well that’s been contaminated with sewage or flood water.
  • Exposure to stool during sexual contact with someone with a Shigella infection or who has recently recovered from a Shigella infection.

How are Shigella infections diagnosed?

Your health care provider can order laboratory tests to identify Shigella in your stool.


I was diagnosed with a Shigella infection. What should I do to keep myself and others safe?
  • Wash your hands carefully and frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the bathroom.
  • Do not prepare food for others while you are ill. After you get better, wash your hands carefully with soap and water before preparing food for others.
  • Stay home from child care, school, and food service facilities while ill. Your local health department may have a policy on when to return to child care or school. Refer to your local health department website for more information.
  • Avoid swimming until you have fully recovered.
  • Wait to have sex (vaginal, anal, and oral) for two weeks after you no longer have diarrhea. Because Shigella germs may be in stool for several weeks, follow safe sexual practices using barriers, such as condoms or dental dams, or ideally avoid having sex, for several weeks after you have recovered.

My child was diagnosed with a Shigella infection. What should I do to keep them and others safe?
  • Supervise handwashing of toddlers and small children after they use the bathroom. Wash your hands and your infant’s hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after every diaper change.
  • Follow these diaper changing steps, including throwing away soiled diapers in a covered, lined garbage can, and cleaning diaper changing areas after using them.
  • Keep your child out of child care and group play settings, and avoid taking your child swimming or to group water play venues until after they no longer have diarrhea.

How are Shigella infections treated?

People who have a Shigella infection usually get better without antibiotic treatment in five to seven days. People with mild infections may need only fluids and rest.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) monitors cases of Shigella, a bacteria that can cause stomach infections. Some cases of Shigella can be resistant to antibiotics.  Health care providers should perform antimicrobial susceptibility testing if they plan to treat a patient with Shigella with an antibiotic. If antibiotics are prescribed after this testing is complete, it is important for people to follow their doctor’s directions and finish taking all the pills even if they feel better.


Who is most likely to get a Shigella infection?

Young children are the most likely to get a Shigella infection, but people of all ages can be affected.

  • Many outbreaks occur in child care and school settings. Infection commonly spreads from young children to their family members and other people in their communities because these bacteria spread easily.

Travelers to areas with poor sanitation and hygiene systems are more likely to get a Shigella infection.  

  • Travelers may be exposed to the bacteria through contaminated food, water (both drinking and recreational water), or surfaces.

People who engage in oral-anal or oral sex are more likely to get a Shigella infection. 

  • Shigella can pass from stool or soiled fingers of one person to the mouth of another person, including during sexual activity.
  • Barriers, such as condoms or dental dams, decrease risk of transmission.

People who have weakened immune systems due to illness (such as HIV) or medical treatment (such as chemotherapy) can get a more serious illness. 

  • A severe Shigella infection can spread into the blood, which can be life threatening.

How can I reduce my chance of getting a Shigella infection?
  • Carefully wash your hands with soap and water during key times:
    • Before preparing food and eating.
    • After changing a diaper or helping to clean another person who has defecated.
       
  • Avoid swallowing water from ponds, lakes, or untreated swimming pools.
  • When traveling internationally, stick to safe eating and drinking habits, and wash hands often with soap and water. 
  • If you care for a child in diapers who has a Shigella infection, promptly throw away the soiled diapers in a covered, lined garbage can. Wash your hands and the child’s hands carefully with soap and water right after changing the diapers. Clean up any leaks or spills of diaper contents immediately.
  • If your partner has been diagnosed with a Shigella infection, avoid having sex (vaginal, anal, and oral) for two weeks after they no longer have diarrhea. Because Shigella germs may be in stool for several weeks, follow safe sexual practices using barriers, such as condoms or dental dams, or ideally avoid having sex, for several weeks after your partner has recovered. 
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