Health Alert – Shigella

Since mid-2011, the Pennsylvania Department of Health has received a number of reports of shigellosis due to Shigella flexeri, a species of Shigella that is infrequently diagnosed in Pennsylvania. The cases have occurred in the southeastern part of the state among men who have sex with men (MSM) who may or may not be HIV-positive.

What is Shigella?

Shigella is one of the bacterial agents that causes acute diarrhea. Symptoms often include cramping, fever and vomiting. The infection spreads easily from person to person by the fecal-oral route since a very small number of organisms are necessary to produce transmission.

How do you catch Shigella?

The Pennsylvania Health Alert Network reports “Shigella outbreaks have been previously reported in MSMs and are usually correlated with having multiple partners combined with unprotected high-risk sexual behavior. The fact that some of these patients are also HIV infected raises added concerns, not only due to the potential for transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections through the same high risk behaviors, but also because immune-compromised individuals can have extended carriage of Shigella.” 

What can you do?

Persons with diarrhea usually recover completely, although it may be several months before their bowel habits are entirely normal. Once someone has had shigellosis, they are not likely to get infected with that specific type again for at least several years. However, they can still get infected with other types of Shigella. Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent shigellosis. However, the spread of Shigella from an infected person to other persons can be stopped by frequent and careful hand-washing with soap.

For more information about Shigella, you can go to the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention Website.

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