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Abilene health officials warn infectious 'Shigella' disease on the rise

By Braid Blanks, bblanks@ktxs.com
Published On: Dec 04 2012 10:49:50 PM CST
Updated On: Dec 05 2012 10:09:24 AM CST
shigella, disease, infection, lab, medical
ABILENE, Texas -

Since August, the Abilene-Taylor County Public Health District has seen an increase in Shigella cases in Abilene, particularly among young children.

Shigellosis is an infection of the intestines that causes diarrhea. It is usually a mild, self-resolving illness (meaning the body will fight off the infection without treatment), and most people recover completely within four to seven days.

After a person is infected, symptoms may develop within one to three days and include diarrhea, stomach cramps, fever, nausea and/or vomiting. Some people never develop any symptoms after being infected. 

Shigellosis is very contagious and can spread easily from person to person. The disease is caused by a group of bacteria called Shigella. The infection is acquired by swallowing something contaminated with the feces of an infected person.

This most commonly happens when an infected person does not wash his/her hands properly after a bowel movement, and then touches somebody else's hands or prepares food for others. Even persons without symptoms can carry the bacteria and pass it on to others, so it is possible to catch Shigella in many different types of environments.

Consider everything you or your child may touch in the course of a few days like exposure to baby's diapers, public and private toilet contact, grocery store carts, door knobs, other kids and many more things an infected person may have touched.

An infected person may spread the bacteria to the food they cook for others. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, there is no vaccine currently on-the-market to prevent shigellosis. Instead, the best form of defense is consistently washing hands with warm water and soap.

There are prevention measures that daycare centers, schools, businesses, organizations and homes may implement to reduce the occurrence of shigellosis. Much research has been done and as simplistic as it may sound, the easiest way to prevent the spread of Shigella, and most other contact diseases, is to properly wash your hands.

*- Hand washing is to be done after bathroom visits, diaper changes, play time, and handling of pets or soil, touching things in a public place, and before food preparation and eating.

*- Wash hands for at least 20 seconds and use soap and running water to lather and rinse the palms, backs of hands, between fingers, under fingernails, and around wrists.

*- Hand-sanitizer may be used as a substitute for hand washing with soap and water.

*- Hand washing among children should be frequent and supervised by an adult in child care facilities and homes with children who have not been fully toilet trained.

*- Child care facilities should keep the food preparation area separate from the diapering area and diaper-changing should not be done in the kitchen.

*- Everyone who changes any child's diapers should be sure the diapers are disposed of properly in a closed-lid garbage can, and should wash his or her hands and the child’s hands carefully with soap and warm water immediately after changing the diapers. This is particularly important when the child has diarrhea.

*- Clean and disinfect bathrooms, diaper changing areas and toys on a routine basis.

*- -People with diarrhea should not prepare food or drinks for others.

*- Child care facilities should not provide water play areas.

*- Sick children, sick staff and others that are ill should be excluded from child care, school facilities and cooking for others for at least 48 hours after all symptoms subside.

We have had 80 cases since the first week in August 2012, about 20 per month. Our average case count for Shigella is six cases per year. In the past 10 years we've experienced outbreaks of as many as over 200 cases in 2002, and as few as zero cases in 2010. Because many milder cases are not diagnosed or reported and the sick person does not go to a doctor and have a lab performed, the actual number of illnesses is higher than the reported numbers. It's possible to reduce or eliminate the transmission of Shigella by placing an extra emphasis on hand hygiene.