What is it? Shigellosis is an infectious illness, which is recognised initially by the symptoms. These can include severe diarrhoea (often with blood or mucous), vomiting, abdominal pain and fever. These symptoms can last from several days to several weeks, but usually 4-7 days.

How is it caused?

It is caused by the shigella bacteria entering the body through the mouth usually from unwashed hands and sometimes from infected food or drink.

Possible sources of the infection can include: -

contaminated objects such as toys, door handles, pencils, cutlery etc.
food prepared by someone who already has the infection
contaminated water or milk

How is it spread?

It can be spread from person to person.

If an infected person does not wash his or her hands properly after going to the toilet their hands may be contaminated with the bacteria. They can then pass the infection on, either by direct contact with other people, or, indirectly, by preparing food or touching objects like those described in the previous section.

It is also possible to be a carrier and to spread germs without having any symptoms or even knowing that you are infected.

How can I stop the infection spreading?

People with diarrhoea and vomiting symptoms are the greatest risk. Once the symptoms have gone, the chances of spreading the infection are reduced. Anyone who has diarrhoea would be well advised to temporarily reduce social contact with others.

If you handle food or drink or are in contact with young children or elderly people in the course of your daily work you should tell your employer or supervisor.

What precautionary measures can I take?

Ensure hands are washed thoroughly and regularly.

Soap, hot water and a nail brush should be used.

Small children should have their hands washed for them.

Wash Hands Before:

preparing or serving food and drink
handling children or babies
eating or drinking
Wash Hands After:

using or cleaning the toilet
attending to someone suffering from shigellosis
changing babies nappies
handling soiled clothes or sheets
Boil soiled laundry for 10 minutes or wash using the hot setting on a domestic washing machine. Alternatively soak in a recommended disinfectant.

Use rubber gloves when cleaning the toilet.

After the toilet has been used, wipe the flush handle, seat and door handle with a suitable disinfectant.

Use separate towels and flannels for each person in the household.

Handle food as little as possible, particularly when it is going to be eaten by other people.

Will I need treatment?

No treatment is usually given for shigella infections. It is simply a case of letting the body's natural defences deal with the infection. In some cases antibiotics may be prescribed but such treatments can have the disadvantage of extending the time during which the patient carries and can pass on the germ.

Do I need to submit specimens?

In some cases it may be necessary to collect specimens of faeces for analysis to confirm the presence of a pathogenic organism. The results can help in determining the possible source of an infection.

Where it is felt necessary to submit a faecal sample an Environmental Health Officer will contact you. You will be given a special container and full instructions on collecting a sample. The sample will be sent to the laboratory for analysis and you will be advised of the outcome.