Shigella Infection

Shigella Infection: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, & Prevention

Shigella infection is an intestinal infection caused by a group of bacteria called Shigella. The infection can cause diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. It's most common in children aged 1-4 years, but it can affect people of any age. It's highly contagious and can spread quickly throughout families, schools, and daycare centers.

The most common symptom of a Shigella infection is diarrhea. This can range from mild to severe and may be accompanied by urgency or the sudden urge to have a bowel movement. Other symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Stomach cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Blood or mucus in the stool
  • Appetite loss
  • Headache
  • Fatigue

A shigella infection can be caused by consuming food or water that's contaminated with the bacteria. It can also be spread through direct contact with an infected person. Examples of direct contact include:

  • Touching objects that an infected person has touched, such as doorknobs, toys, and public transportation seats
  • Having someone change a diaper that's soiled with stool from an infected person
  • Having sexual contact with an infected person

Your doctor can usually diagnose a shigella infection based on your symptoms and a physical exam. If needed, he or she may order a stool test to confirm the diagnosis. Treatment is usually not necessary for mild cases of shigella infection. Symptoms usually go away within a few days. Over-the-counter medications, such sterile saline and bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol), can help to ease symptoms such as diarrhea.

In severe cases, antibiotics may be necessary. These may include tetracycline, ampicillin, or trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole. Your doctor may also recommend that you rest, drink plenty of fluids to remain hydrated, and eat small meals.

Preventing Shigella Infection

You can help prevent shigella infection by following these tips:

  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked meats, eggs, and vegetables. Eat only thoroughly cooked food.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables before eating them. Peel or cook the outer layer of all fruits and vegetables, if possible.
  • Avoid drinking untreated water.
  • Avoid swimming in bodies of water where bacteria can live, such as lakes, rivers, and ponds.
  • Teach children proper hygiene habits, such as washing their hands thoroughly after using the bathroom and before eating.
  • Change diapers for young children often and in a safe way, such as in the toilet or with disposable pads.