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Shigellosis: Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention and Complications

Sep 26, 2023

Shigellosis: Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention and Complications

An intestinal infection known as shigella infection (also known as shigellosis) is brought on by a family of bacteria called shigella. Diarrhea, which is frequently bloody, is the primary symptom of shigella infection.

The Shigella virus spreads quickly. Shigella infections occur when people come into touch with and ingest minute quantities of bacteria from a shigella-infected person's feces. 

This might occur, for instance, in a childcare facility when staff members help toddlers with potty training or nappy changes without thoroughly washing their hands first. Shigella bacteria can also be acquired by eating contaminated food, drinking contaminated water, or swimming in it.

Shigella infections can happen at any age but are most common in children under the age of 5. A moderate case typically goes away on its own in a week. Antibiotics are typically prescribed by doctors when treatment is necessary.

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Causes Of Shigellosis

When shigella germs are inadvertently swallowed, infection results. This might take place if you:

  • Touch your mouth: The most typical method of disease transmission is through person-to-person contact. You might contract shigella yourself, for instance, if you don't thoroughly wash your hands after changing a child's nappy.
  • Ingest contaminated food: Bacteria can be transferred from infected people preparing food to the consumers of that meal. If food grows in a field that has sewage around, the food can also acquire the shigella bacteria.
  • Ingest contaminated water: Shigella bacteria can enter water from sewage or from someone swimming in the water who has the infection.

Symptoms Of Shigellosis

Shigella infection signs and symptoms typically appear a day or two after having contact with shigella. However, it can take up to a week for it to manifest. Following are mentioned some of the symptoms:

  • Diarrhea (frequently accompanied by blood or mucous)
  • Abdominal discomfort or cramps
  • Fever
  • The feeling of nausea or vomiting

Typically, symptoms remain between five and seven days. The duration of symptoms can vary. After being infected with the shigella infection, some people experience no symptoms. Their feces, nevertheless, can still be infectious for a few weeks.

Risk Factors Of Shigellosis

  • Age: The risk of contracting shigella is highest in children under the age of 5. However, anyone can contract shigella.
  • Taking part in group activities or residing in a communal setting: People who are in close proximity to one another are more likely to contract bacteria. Shigella outbreaks are more frequent at nursery facilities, neighborhood swimming pools, elderly homes, prisons, and military bases.
  • Living or traveling in unsanitary regions: People are more prone to acquiring the shigella infection if they reside or travel in developing nations.
  • A man who enjoys having sex with men: Because of direct or indirect oral-anal contact during sexual activity, males who have intercourse with other men are more likely to contract shigella.

Diagnosis Of Shigellosis

A number of disorders can cause diarrhea, including bloody diarrhea. Taking a sample of your feces and having it examined in a lab to check for the presence of shigella bacteria or their toxins is the only way to be certain that you have a shigella infection.

Treatment Of Shigellosis

A Shigella infection often clears up within five to seven days. If your overall health is good and your shigella infection is minor, replacing lost fluids from diarrhea can be all that's required for therapy.

Over-the-counter (OTC)- medicines

Before taking a diarrhea treatment over-the-counter (OTC), consult your doctor. Numerous illnesses, including those that may be exacerbated by over-the-counter medications, can induce diarrhea.

If a lab examination has revealed that you have shigella infection, an over-the-counter medication (OTC) containing bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate) may help reduce the frequency of your stools and shorten the duration of your illness. Children, expectant mothers, and those who are aspirin allergic should not use it.

Avoid taking over-the-counter anti-motility medications such as loperamide (Imodium) and medications containing the ingredients diphenoxylate and atropine (Lomotil). These shouldn't be used if you have a shigella infection since they may make your condition worse and impair your body's capacity to eliminate the bacteria.


Antibiotics may reduce the duration of a sickness caused by a severe shigella infection. Some Shigella bacteria have, nonetheless, developed antibiotic resistance. Therefore, unless your shigella infection is severe, your doctor may not offer antibiotics.

Infants, elderly people, HIV-positive people, and people in circumstances where there is a significant danger of spreading the virus may also require antibiotics.

Replacement of Fluids and Salt

  • Drinking water can help individuals who are normally healthy fend off diarrhea's dehydrating effects.
  • An oral rehydration solution, such as the pharmacy staple Pedialyte, may be helpful for children.
  • Children and adults who are severely dehydrated require treatment in a hospital emergency room, where they can receive salts and fluids intravenously (via a vein), as compared to orally. More quickly than oral solutions, intravenous hydration gives the body the water and nutrients it requires.

Prevention Of Shigellosis

Although work on a shigella vaccine is ongoing, nothing is currently on the market. To stop the spread of shigella:

  • Wash your hands frequently in soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • While young children wash their hands, keep an eye on them.
  • Cleanly dispose of soiled diapers.
  • After use, clean the areas where you change diapers.
  • If you have diarrhea, don't make food for others.
  • Keep children with diarrhea at home away from creches, playgroups, and schools
  • Do not consume water from ponds, lakes, or untreated pools.
  • Avoid engaging in sexual intercourse with somebody who has diarrhea or has just recovered from diarrhea.
  • Wait till you are completely recovered before going swimming.

Complications Of Shigellosis

Shigella infections typically go away without any problems. But before your bowel movements return to normal, it can take weeks or months.

Possible complications include:

  • Dehydration: Diarrhea that doesn't stop can dehydrate you. Lightheadedness, a lack of tears in youngsters, sunken eyes, and dry diapers are among the warning signs and symptoms of this condition. Shock and death can result from severe dehydration.
  • Seizures: Seizures can occur in certain young patients with shigella infections. Children with high fevers are more likely to experience seizures, although children without high fevers can also experience seizures. It is unknown if the fever or the shigella infection itself is to blame for the seizures. Get in touch with your doctor right away if your child is having a seizure.
  • Rectal prolapse: The mucous membrane or lining of the rectum may pass through the anus in this situation as a result of straining during bowel movements or large intestine inflammation.
  • Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome: This uncommon shigella complication, which is more frequently brought on by a specific strain of E. coli bacteria than by shigella bacteria, can result in hemolytic anemia, thrombocytopenia, and acute kidney failure.
  • Toxic megacolon: When your colon paralyzes, preventing you from passing gas or having a bowel movement, this uncommon consequence happens. The presence of fever, weakness, stomach pain, and swelling are indications. If you don't get treatment for toxic megacolon, your colon could rupture, leading to peritonitis, a potentially fatal illness that needs immediate attention.
  • Reactive Arthritis: An infection triggers the development of reactive arthritis. The most common locations for joint pain and inflammation are the ankles, knees, feet, and hips. Other signs and symptoms include conjunctivitis, which causes redness, stinging, and discharge in one or both eyes and painful urination.
  • Bacteremia, an infection of the bloodstream: The lining of the intestines might get damaged by a shigella infection. Rarely, the intestinal lining damage can make it possible for the shigella bacteria to enter the circulation and spread infection.

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