Shigellosis is caused by a group of bacteria called Shigella.
There are several types of Shigella.
Shigella sonnei, also called "group D" Shigella, is responsible for most cases of shigellosis in the United States.
Shigella flexneri, or "group B" Shigella, cause almost all other cases.
Shigella dysenteriae type 1 is rare in the U.S. but can lead to deadly outbreaks in developing countries.
People infected with the bacteria release it into their stool. The bacteria can spread from an infected person to contaminate water or food, or directly to another person. Getting just a little bit of the Shigella bacteria into your mouth is enough to cause symptoms.
Outbreaks of shigellosis are associated with poor sanitation, contaminated food and water, and crowded living conditions.
Shigellosis is common among travelers in developing countries and workers or residents of refugee camps.
The condition is most commonly seen in day care centers and group living places.
Symptoms usually develop about 1 to 7 days (average 3 days) after you come in contact with the bacteria.
The goal of treatment is to replace fluids and electrolytes (salt and minerals) lost in diarrhea.
Medications that stop diarrhea are generally not given because it make cause the infection to take longer to go away.
Self-care measures to avoid dehydration include drinking electrolyte solutions to replace the fluids lost by diarrhea. Several varieties of electrolyte solutions are now available over the counter.
Antibiotics can help shorten the length of the illness and help prevent it from spreading to others in group living or day care situations. They may also be prescribed for patients with severe symptoms. Frequently used antibiotics include sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim (Bactrim), ampicillin, ciprofloxacin (Cipro), or azithromycin.
If you have diarrhea and cannot drink fluids by mouth because of severe nausea, you may need medical attention and fluids through a vein ( intravenously).This is especially common in small children.
Persons who take diuretics ("water pills") may need to stop taking such medicines if they have acute shigella enteritis. Never stop taking any medicine without first talking to your health care provider.
Often the infection is mild and goes away on its own. Most patients, except malnourished children and those with weakened immune systems, have an excellent outlook.
About 1 in 10 children with severe shigella enteritis develop neurological problems including febrile seizures or brain disease (encephalopathy) with headache, lethargy, confusion, and stiff neck.
Calling your health care provider
Call your provider if diarrhea does not improve, if there is blood in the stool, or if there are signs of dehydration.
Go to the emergency room if the following occur in a person with shigellosis:
Headache with stiff neck
Such symptoms are most common in children.
Prevention involves the proper handling, storage, and preparation of food, in addition to good cleanliness. Hand washing is the most effective preventive measure. Avoid contaminated food and water.
DuPont HL. Approach to the patient with suspected enteric infection. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 291.
Semrad CE. Approach to the patient with diarrhea and malabsorption.In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa:Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap142.
Giannella RA. Infectious enteritis and proctocolitis and bacterial food poisoning. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran’s Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa:Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 107.
Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.