What is shigellosis?

Shigellosis is an infectious disease caused by bacteria called Shigella. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps starting a day or two after exposure to the bacteria. Some people who are infected may have no symptoms, but may pass the Shigella bacteria to others.

People with mild infections usually get better quickly without antibiotic treatment.

How is it spread?

A person infected with the Shigella bacteria passes it on to others.

Shigella are present in the diarrheal stools of infected persons while they are sick and for up to a week or two afterwards. Most Shigella infections are the result of the bacterium passing from stools or dirty fingers of one person to the mouth of another person. This happens when people do not wash their hands well enough. It also can happen during certain types of sexual activity.

People with Shigella infections can handle food and infect it with the bacteria. Contaminated food usually looks and smells normal. Food may become contaminated by infected food handlers who forget to wash their hands with soap after using the bathroom.

If someone with shigellosis swims in or plays with water (especially in splash tables, untreated wading pools, or shallow play fountains used by daycare centers), they can contaminate the water with the bacteria. Other people drinking, swimming in, or playing with the contaminated water can then get a Shigella infection.

What can a person do to prevent this illness?

There is no vaccine to prevent shigellosis. However, you can stop the spread of Shigella by frequent and careful handwashing with soap.

Some tips for preventing the spread of shigellosis:

  • Wash hands with soap carefully and frequently, especially after going to the bathroom, after changing diapers, and before preparing foods or beverages.
  • Dispose of soiled diapers properly
  • Disinfect diaper changing areas after using them.
  • Keep children with diarrhea out of child care settings.
  • Supervise handwashing of toddlers and small children after they use the toilet.
  • Do not prepare food for others while ill with diarrhea
  • Avoid swallowing water from ponds, lakes, or untreated pools.