Shigella many cases, the use of antibiotics can

Shigella is a highly contagious bacteria that causes illness in the human digestive system. Learn more about this bacteria, the disease it causes, and how to treat the infection resulting from it in this lesson.

What is Shigella?

There’s just no getting around it – getting sick is awful.

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While a cold or the flu can be bad enough, there’s a whole world of bacteria out there that can create illness in the human body. Today, we’ll take a closer look at one group of just such bacteria, called Shigella, and what these little buggers can do to our bodies.Shigella is a genus of bacteria very similar to that of Salmonella, which you may have heard of. An infection of Shigella results in a not-usually-life-threatening disease called shigellosis.

Shigellosis affects the intestines and is highly contagious. It is more common in children than it is in adults, largely because of its favorite method of transportation: feces. Individuals in group care settings, both child care and adult care, may be at higher risk because of close contact with those carrying the bacteria.

Shigellosis Symptoms

The symptoms of shigellosis are very similar to those of other intestinal parasites in that diarrhea is almost always the first clue. The presence of blood and/or mucus is an early indicator that Shigella may be at fault for all the unpleasantness.

Other symptoms that accompany diarrhea include a sudden fever and/or abdominal cramps.Because diarrhea is the primary and most severe symptom of this bacterial infection, the foremost danger for someone with shigellosis is dehydration. In children, very high fevers can lead to febrile seizures, or convulsions in small children, often accompanied by a loss of consciousness and violent shaking of the body.

Causes of Shigella Infection

Shigella bacteria, like other types of bacteria, make us sick when they are ingested. There’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that Shigella are very contagious and can live up to four weeks outside of the human body, making contamination tricky to contain once it begins.

The good news is that the Shigella themselves must be ingested by mouth (Ewww!) in order to get to our digestive tracts. While that sounds like not-so-good news, it does mean that careful hand-washing, surface cleaning, and disposal of contaminated goods can go a long way in preventing Shigella infection.

Shigella bacteria are the cause of shigella infection
Picture of shigella bacteria

Common sources of infection include direct contact with a person infected by Shigella, contaminated food sources, swimming in bodies of contaminated water, or physical contact with surfaces that have been exposed to Shigella.

Hand-washing and the sanitization of potentially contaminated surfaces are key in stopping a trend of shigellosis in its tracks, especially in group care settings.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Because shigellosis is an intestinal infection and manifests many of the same symptoms as similarly structured bacteria, the easiest way to diagnosis this condition is by examination of a stool sample by a doctor. Once the physician has confirmed the guilt of Shigella, in a healthy person, usually no medical treatment aside from hydration and the replacement of electrolytes is necessary because the body will rid itself of the bacteria (typically) in five to seven days.Severe cases of shigellosis or instances when the body needs help in eliminating the bacteria may result in the prescription of antibiotics. However, in many cases, the use of antibiotics can actually prolong the infection, so prescription of these drugs is rare.

Antibiotics that may be used as a last resort include ampicillin, azithromycin, and ciprofloxacin.

Lesson Summary

Shigellosis is an intestinal infection caused by the presence of the bacteria Shigella in the human intestinal tract. Symptoms of shigellosis or Shigella infection include diarrhea with blood or mucus present, abdominal cramps, and fever. It is more common in children and individuals in group care settings.Shigellosis is caused by the ingestion of Shigella through contaminated food or water, or by having direct contact with contaminated surfaces. Though the body can typically rid itself of the infection in about a week, the bacteria can live outside the body for up to four weeks.

Shigella infection usually resolves on its own, with medical treatment limited to preventing dehydration by replacing lost fluids and electrolytes.


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