What Is Shigella and What You Need to Know About It

31 Aug What Is Shigella and What You Need to Know About It

The recent outbreak of Shigella flexneri infections has prompted the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to issue a health warning for Southern California.

Dr. Cameron Kaiser, MD, MPH, Public Health Officer, County of Riverside, indicates that his team is watching the situation very closely.  He urges anyone – but especially HIV positive individuals – to seek care promptly if they show symptoms.  He also asks providers to report cases to his office as soon as possible.


What is Shigella?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Shigellosis is an infectious disease caused by a group of bacteria called Shigella (shih-GEHL-uh). Most who are infected with Shigella develop diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps starting a day or two after they are exposed to the bacteria. Shigellosis usually resolves in 5 to 7 days. Some people who are infected may have no symptoms at all, but may still pass the Shigella bacteria to others. The spread of Shigella can be stopped by frequent and careful hand washing with soap and taking other hygiene measures.

Symptoms of shigellosis typically start 1–2 days after exposure and include:

  • Diarrhea (sometimes bloody)
  • Fever
  • Abdominal pain
  • Tenesmus (a painful sensation of needing to pass stools even when bowels are empty)

BREAKING: Deadly Shigella Oubreak Among L.A.’s Gay and Bi Men

Shigella germs are present in the stools of infected persons while they have diarrhea and for up to a week or two after the diarrhea has gone away. Shigella is very contagious; exposure to even a tiny amount of contaminated fecal matter—too small to see – can cause infection. Transmission of Shigella occurs when people put something in their mouths or swallow something that has come into contact with stool of a person infected with Shigella.

Transmission of Shigella can happen when:

  • Contaminated hands touch your food or mouth. Hands can become contaminated through a variety of activities, such as touching surfaces (e.g., toys, bathroom fixtures, changing tables, diaper pails) that have been contaminated by stool from an infected person. Hands can also become contaminated with Shigella while changing the diaper of an infected child or caring for an infected person.
  • Eating food contaminated with Shigella. Food may become contaminated if food handlers have shigellosis. Produce can become contaminated if growing fields contain human sewage. Flies can breed in infected feces and then contaminate food when they land on it.
  • Swallowing recreational (for example lake or river water while swimming) or drinking water that was contaminated by infected fecal matter.
  • Exposure to feces through sexual contact.

Who is currently at risk for Shigella?

  • Young children are the most likely to get shigellosis, but people from all age groups are affected.
  • Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men are more likely to acquire shigellosis than the general adult population.
  • HIV-infected persons can have more severe and prolonged shigellosis, including having the infection spread into the blood, which could be life threatening.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Shigellosis Disease in Gay, Bisexual, and Men who have Sex with Men

Please contact your healthcare provider immediately if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.

Sources of information for this article include:  Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, County of Riverside Public Health.