Allegheny County health officials are reporting a dramatic increase in cases of the gastrointestinal disease, shigellosis, prompting them to advise the public on preventive measures like proper handwashing.
The Allegheny County Health Department reports 90 cases have been reported since October 2014, with 32 In June and July of 2015, compared with 9 cases in all of 2013. About half of the cases attended a childcare facility or elementary school.
Shigellosis is caused by bacterium in the genus, Shigella. Shigella can be easily spread person to person or through contaminated food, water or beverages when people do not carefully wash their hands after using the toilet or changing diapers.
Besides diarrhea which may be bloody, symptoms of the disease include fever, abdominal pain, and sometimes nausea and vomiting, with onset of symptoms from 1 to 3 days after being exposed to the bacteria. The symptoms usually last five to seven days, but in some cases people have no symptoms at all yet may still pass the bacteria on to others. While anyone can get shigellosis, the disease is most severe in children and the elderly but usually does not require hospitalization. Most people get better on their own, but those who have diarrhea for more than a couple of days should contact their health care provider. Antibiotics may relieve symptoms and reduce the chance of transmitting the disease to others.
The best way to prevent shigellosis is to your wash hands frequently with soap and warm water for at least 30 seconds, especially after using the toilet, changing diapers, handling any stool-soiled material and before eating or preparing food and beverages. Most people with a diarrheal illness such as shigellosis may return to school or work after their symptoms go away as long they maintain good hygiene; however, food handlers, health care workers, and child care workers must not work until they have had two negative stool tests. Likewise, children diagnosed with shigellosis may not attend childcare centers until they have two negative stool tests done at least 48 hours after completing any prescribed antibiotics.
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