Spread the Word on Shigellosis, Not the Bacteria

A recent outbreak of Shigellosis began running rampant through the school system my children attend in Wilson County, Tennessee. One woman with children in the school where the outbreak began said the principal approached the school board requesting a temporary shutdown to sanitize and allow time for recovery, but the request was denied. Rather than closing the school to prevent more children from becoming ill, they felt not enough students were already missing class to warrant shutting the doors.

The principal confirmed that for a period of about two weeks their school was averaging twelve or more absent students and at least three absent faculty members a day due to confirmed infections. Once the outbreak was reported to the local health department, they recommended students be kept home for three days after symptoms abated. They commented that this was lenient compared to most states which require a clean stool sample before allowing children back in school. The parent I spoke to told me her pediatrician recommended five days of being symptom-free before returning.

According to the CDC website, Shigellosis is an infectious disease caused by a group of bacteria called Shigella. Those who come in contact with this bacteria will usually begin showing symptoms one to two days after exposure, and general symptoms include diarrhea, stomach cramps and fever. The initial onset of diarrhea is usually very watery, but soon and often turns bloody.

Mild cases tend to resolve fairly quickly on their own (usually 5-7 days), although for cases with bloody diarrhea, people with compromised immune systems, or those with a severe infection, antibiotic treatment is recommended and may help shorten the duration of the illness. One parent here said it took three weeks before two of her sick children were completely free of stomach cramps and other gastrointestinal symptoms.

Indeed, it can sometimes take months after recovery for bowel habits to fully return to normal, and in about 2% of cases there can be long-term effects such as pain in the joints, eye irritation, and painful urination. Some strains of the Shigella bacteria are also becoming resistant to first-round antibiotics as well. Once a person has contracted the bacteria, they are unlikely to become infected again for at least several years, although they are still susceptible to different strains of the bacteria.

Shigellosis is highly contagious and is spread quickly by contact with an infected person. It can also be passed through food, usually food handled by someone who did not exercise proper hand washing. In cases like what is happening in Tennessee, where the school board is refusing to shut the school down, parents must be vigilant and informed to prevent further outbreak. The school system would not confirm how many other schools were affected, but talk among parents confirmed at least one other, and the health department was stated as confirming outbreaks in surrounding counties.

Parents with infants should be extremely cautious about washing their hands after changing diapers or using the restroom, and washing food prior to cooking or eating. Children should be instructed on proper hand washing procedures and supervised while doing so. If anyone in your household shows symptoms of Shigellosis, see your physician to confirm the bacterial infection and take proper precautions to prevent spreading this disease to others.

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