San Francisco health officials say the city reports 5-10 cases of shigellosis monthly typically; however, this December the City by the Bay has reported a significant spike in the gastrointestinal bacterial infection.
During the first 23 days of the month, health authorities report 65 cases of shigella. Hit particularly hard by the rash of shigella cases is the city’s homeless, accounting for 40 percent of all cases.
“We are particularly concerned about our homeless residents, who are more vulnerable to disease than people with stable housing,” Dr. Tomas Aragon, the city’s health officer, said in a statement.
“People who are in crowded conditions and without access to running water and sanitation facilities are more susceptible to contracting and spreading shigella,” Aragon said.
The Health Department’s San Francisco Homeless Outreach Team (SFHOT) is working aggressively to provide outreach to the homeless population on the streets. SFHOT staffers are interviewing homeless people for symptoms of Shigella, handing out fliers alerting them to the outbreak, giving instructions on sanitation and hand hygiene and passing out antiseptic towelettes.
”We know where people are — on the streets, in encampments, in parks,” said Dr. Barry Zevin, Medical Director, SFHOT. “We are able to reach them very quickly with expert medical advice, to assess them and provide information about how to prevent and stop the spread of disease.”
The Health Department also is working with the city’s shelters and soup kitchens to ensure proper sanitation, hand washing facilities and information is made available to clients.
“People who are in crowded conditions and without access to running water and sanitation facilities are more susceptible to contracting and spreading Shigella,” Aragón said. “We are working closely with homeless service providers and advocates to ensure that this community is reached.”
The CDC says Shigellosis is an infectious disease caused by a group of bacteria called Shigella. Most who are infected with Shigella develop diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps starting a day or two after they are exposed to the bacteria. Shigellosis usually resolves in 5 to 7 days. Some people who are infected may have no symptoms at all, but may still pass the Shigella bacteria to others. The spread of Shigella can be stopped by frequent and careful handwashing with soap and taking other hygiene measures.
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