Kansas City Sees Shigella Outbreak

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Shigella OutbreakHealth officials in Kansas City, Missouri are urging residents to take protective measures due to a large rise in cases of a diarrheal disease called Shigellosis. There are normally around 10 cases each year in the city caused by the Shigella bacteria. So far this summer, there have been more than 134 reported cases since July.

This outbreak is actually on schedule, since Kansas City experiences Shigella spikes every five years. The health department remains baffled as to the exact cause of the twice-per-decade increases and can only suggest preventative action. Some antibiotic-resistant strains of the bacteria have been found among the reported cases, further complicating matters.

Shigella is transmitted primarily through fecal-oral contact, either direct or indirect. As with bacteria with similar modes of transmission, improper hygiene during food preparation or contaminated water is one of the main ways it spreads. Washing hands thoroughly with soap and warm water, and making sure to get under the fingernails when washing are the main ways to prevent the spread of the disease.

One of Shigella’s more unique traits is that it takes very few of the organisms—around seven to 10—to cause an infection. This is why cloth towels are discouraged, since they can be reused and further transmit any lingering bacteria.

Symptoms of Shigellosis tend to present themselves within one to two days after infection and include diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain, and feeling the need to pass stool even if the bowels are empty (called tenesmus). Advanced infection can happen if the bacterium reaches the blood stream, which is primarily a risk for immune-compromised individuals. If young children are infected, they have been known to develop convulsions, but this is not an immediately life-threatening complication. Among those with healthy immune systems, infections tend to resolve within a week.

There are approximately 500,000 Shigellosis cases in the U.S. each year.

Sources for Today’s Article:
Hunter, M., “Kansas City sees spike in Shigella infections,” CNN web site, September 26, 2015; http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/26/health/shigella-kansas-city-missouri/.
“Shigella – Shigellosis,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site, last updated April 2, 2015; http://www.cdc.gov/shigella/general-information.html, last accessed September 29, 2015.