Shigella gastroenteritis is a bowel infection caused by bacteria from the Shigella
family. Other names for shigella gastroenteritis include shigellosis, Shigella
enteritis and bacillary dysentery. Common symptoms include diarrhoea that may contain blood, mucus or pus, abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting.
To cause infection, the bacteria have to be eaten, either directly through physical contact with a person with the illness, or indirectly by contaminated food and water. After incubating (bacteria multiplying) in the body for around one to three days, the infection causes the characteristic symptoms. These symptoms last for about four to seven days.
It is important to seek prompt medical advice. In very rare cases, shigella gastroenteritis can be life threatening.
Children are particularly prone to shigella gastroenteritis
Anyone can contract the infection, but children are particularly prone (although infection in babies under six months is unusual). The infection tends to be more severe in young children and the elderly. Outbreaks can occur in institutional settings, particularly where children are still in nappies (such as childcare centres) or adults are incontinent (such as nursing homes).
Symptoms of shigella gastroenteritis
The symptoms of shigella gastroenteritis include:
- diarrhoea (which may contain traces of pus, mucus or blood)
- abdominal cramps
- dizziness when standing up.
Complications of shigella gastroenteritis
Young children are more susceptible to complications, which may include:
- febrile seizures caused by fever
- stiff neck
Causes of shigella gastroenteritis
bacteria are excreted (passed) in faeces (poo). If an infected person doesn’t wash their hands after going to the toilet, the bacteria can be spread if they touch objects and surfaces that will be touched by other people, or handle food that may be eaten by other people. A person changing the nappy of a baby with shigella gastroenteritis may contaminate their hands with the bacteria.
It is also possible to get shigella gastroenteritis from drinking water that is contaminated with human faeces containing Shigella
Infection can still occur after symptoms have stopped
The symptoms of shigella gastroenteritis may clear up after a week or so, but the person can have Shigella
bacteria in their faeces for at least four weeks after the symptoms stop. Occasionally, a person may excrete the bacteria for months after the symptoms have stopped.
Some people are carriers, which means that they have the bacteria in their body, but don’t feel sick. These people can still pass the disease on to others.
Diagnosis of shigella gastroenteritis
Stool culture or rectal swabs are used to diagnose shigella gastroenteritis.
Treatment for shigella gastroenteritis
Treatment options may include:
- appropriate antibiotics to kill the bacteria within a matter of days
- plenty of fluids
- oral rehydration drinks, available from your chemist
- in severe cases, intravenous fluids may be needed
- eating solid foods
- avoiding anti-vomiting or anti-diarrhoea drugs unless prescribed or recommended by your doctor.
Prevention of shigella gastroenteritis
General suggestions on how to reduce the risk of shigella gastroenteritis include:
- Wash hands thoroughly with soap and hot water after going to the toilet or changing nappies, and before preparing food or eating.
- Use disposable paper towels to dry your hands rather than cloth towels, since the bacteria can survive for some time on cloth.
- Keep cold food cold (below 5 °C) and hot foot hot (above 60 °C) to discourage the growth of bacteria.
- Make sure foods are thoroughly cooked.
- Thoroughly wash raw vegetables before eating.
- Reheat food until the internal temperature of the food reaches at least 75 °C.
- Clean the toilet and bathroom regularly, including the toilet seat, door handles and taps by using a cleaning product that is able to kill bacteria, such as a product containing chlorine.
- Clean baby change tables regularly.
- Water from rivers and lakes may be contaminated by human faeces. Boil water from these sources before drinking.
Preventing the spread of infection
Good personal hygiene should be practised at all times. In addition to the above precautions, suggestions to reduce the risk of transmission include:
- Don’t share towels or linen with the infected person.
- The infected person shouldn’t prepare any meals at home for other family members.
- The infected person should be kept home until the diarrhoea has ceased, to prevent infecting others at work, school, kindergarten or childcare.
- If the infected person works in a high-risk occupation, such as a food worker, health care worker and childcare worker; it is important that they remain away from work until they have produced two successive negative stool specimens taken 24 hours apart for Shigella, and not less than 48 hours after completing appropriate antibiotic treatment.
- Children should not attend child care centres, kindergartens or school until their symptoms have stopped.
- When travelling overseas to countries with poor sanitation conditions, only drink bottled water. Don’t forget to brush your teeth in bottled water too. Avoid food buffets, uncooked foods or peeled fruits and vegetables, and ice in drinks.
Where to get help
- Your doctor
- Communicable Disease Prevention and Control Unit, Department of Health Victoria Tel. 1300 651 160
Things to remember
- Shigella gastroenteritis is a bowel infection caused by bacteria from the Shigella family.
- Common symptoms include diarrhoea that may contain blood, mucus or pus, abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting.
- Shigella bacteria are excreted in faeces (poo), so an infected person who doesn’t wash their hands properly after going to the toilet can spread the bacteria to other people, objects, surfaces and food.
- Food handlers, childcare workers and health care workers should not return to work until their symptoms have stopped.
- Treatment includes antibiotics, plenty of fluids and oral rehydration drinks.
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Department of Health and Human Services - RHP&R - Health Protection - Communicable Disease Prevention and Control Unit
Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residents and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that, over time, currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.