Hand washing best defense against Shigella infection

Published 7:33 pm Sunday, October 30, 2011


Southwest Georgia Public Health

Disease investigators and other officials from the Southwest Public Health District are working together to control an outbreak of Shigella, a bacterial infection that causes diarrhea (often bloody), fever and stomach cramps.

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“The spread of Shigella from an infected person to others can be stopped by frequent and careful hand washing with soap and warm water,” said Southwest Health District Health Director Dr. Jacqueline Grant.

The first clusters of Shigella were identified in September among young Worth County children, Grant said. However, infections have now been confirmed in Dougherty County and are also being seen in older children and adults.

In Sylvester, Ga., the Worth County Schools were closed on Monday and Tuesday to try and control the outbreak, which had already affected four children in the school system, according to The Albany Herald.

“Public Health considers this a community outbreak,” Grant said. “We want the entire community to be aware that the infection is easily spread and can linger in a community if proper precautions aren’t taken.”

There is no vaccine to prevent Shigella.

“Some people who are affected may not have symptoms, but may pass the bacteria on to others,” Grant said.  “That is why it is extremely important to practice good hand washing, which means around and under the nails for at least 20 seconds.”

Also, people with shigellosis should not prepare food or drinks for others until they have been shown to no longer be carrying the Shigella bacterium, or if they have had no diarrhea for at least seven days. Sick children should not return to school until they produce fully-formed stools for 48 hours and are free of symptoms.

The infection usually clears up in five to seven days.

Public Health’s recommendations regarding Shigella include:

• Do not use Lomotil (Diphenoxylate and Atropine), Imodium (loperamide) or similar over-the-counter medications for diarrhea, which will worsen the illness and prolong bacterial shedding.

• Go to your healthcare provider if you have symptoms.

• Schools and childcare providers are to contact their county health department if there are two or more children with symptoms of Shigella.

For more information about Shigella, go to www.southwestgeorgiapublichealth.org or www.cdc.gov or contact your county health department.