The New Mexico Department of Health is investigating an increase in cases of Shigella sonnei that has mostly been affecting Lea and Eddy counties. Among the 36 people who have been identified, the large majority were children associated with child care centers and their family members.
Shigellosis is a bacterial disease characterized by diarrhea, fever, nausea, and sometimes vomiting, cramps, and toxemia (blood poisoning from toxins produced by the bacteria). The diarrhea will often contain blood and mucus. The time between infection and the onset of symptoms varies from 1 to 7 days, but is typically 1-3 days. Possible complications from Shigella infections include post-infectious arthritis, blood stream infections (although rare), seizures, and hemolytic-uremic syndrome or HUS.
Shigella is very contagious. An infected person can shed the bacteria in their stool when they have diarrhea and up to a month after the diarrhea has gone away. If an infected person doesn’t wash their hands thoroughly after using the restroom, they can then spread the bacteria to other surfaces they touch. For example:
- Infected persons can spread Shigella by not washing their hands after going to the bathroom and then handling food that other people will eat.
- Caretakers can become infected by changing the diaper of an infected child or caring for an infected person. The caretaker’s hands may get some small amount of stool and bacteria on their hands, and without proper hand hygiene, spread the bacteria to everything they touch afterwards (including their mouths).
- Swallowing recreational water (for example a lake, splash pad, and/or pool) that was contaminated by infected fecal matter.
- Exposure to feces through sexual contact.
“If your child is sick, please do not take him/her to daycare. This will only spread this illness to other children and their families,” advises Secretary of Health Lynn Gallagher. “If you think that your child may have Shigella, please take your child to their healthcare provider to be tested.”
You can decrease your chance of coming into contact with Shigella by doing the following:
- Washing your hands frequently, especially after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, or before preparing and/or eating food.
- Promptly cleaning possible contaminated surfaces with household chlorine bleach-based cleaners.
- Washing soiled clothing and linens.
- Avoiding food or water from sources that may be contaminated.
- Do not send children to school or daycare if they have persistent diarrhea.