Shigellosis, or shigella infections, is a bacterial infection that causes severe diarrhoea. Kids from two to four years are most likely to get sick from shigella. Most of these infections clear up in about a week, but severe infections might need to be treated with antibiotics. Shigella outbreaks can be serious, so report any cases of shigellosis to your doctor right away.
What causes shigellosis?
Shigellosis is caused by the shigella bacteria which are found in faecal matter. Kids who have the bacteria present in their poo can spread it to other kids if they don’t wash their hands after going to the bathroom. You can also spread the bacteria yourself if you don’t wash your hands after changing nappies, helping your child use the bathroom, or before preparing food. Shigella bacteria can also be found in contaminated water and raw foods that have not been handled properly. Flies help spread shigella bacteria from faeces to food.
Is shigellosis serious?
The majority of kids get over shigellosis in about a week with no long-term complications. However, because diarrhoea and vomiting can cause dehydration, kids with shigella should be monitored. In very rare cases, kids with shigellosis can have seizures, probably due to high fever, or they may experience serious complications with their colon and/or rectum.
Can I prevent shigella?
You can help your child avoid getting shigellosis by teaching them to wash his hands thoroughly and often for at least ten seconds with soap and water. Teach them to always wash his hands after using the bathroom and before eating. If your child has shigellosis, keep them home from school or child care until at least a day after the diarrhoea stops to prevent spreading the illness to other kids.
How do I know if my child has shigella?
Shigella is a lot like other intestinal illnesses in that the symptoms include:
Your child may become sick as early as a day after being exposed to the illness but should get better in about a week.
How do I treat shigellosis?
Most kids get better without their parents even knowing that they have had a shigella infection. However, severe shigellosis, where the illness lasts for longer than a week, may need to be treated with antibiotics to prevent complications. You child will also need plenty of fluids to replace what he loses through vomiting and diarrhoea. You can try using paracetamol for fever, but avoid using anti- diarrhoea medications unless your doctor advises you to do so.
Should I call the doctor?
Always call the doctor if you suspect that your child has shigellosis or has been exposed to shigella bacteria. Doctors, schools and child cares are obligated to report cases of shigella because an outbreak can be serious. Also, call the doctor right away if your child appears dehydrated.
What you need to know about shigella
- Shigellosis is caused by shigella bacteria.
- Shigella bacteria are found in faeces (poo).
- Shigella can be prevented with thorough hand washing.
- Severe shigellosis is treated with antibiotics.
- Shigella outbreaks can be serious, so report it to your doctor.
Find more relevant articles and information about shigella
- Learn more about stomach infections
- Learn more about bacterial infections
- Read more about diarrhoea
- Read more about fevers
Written by Rebecca Stigall for Kidspot, New Zealand’s parenting resource for family health. Sources include Better Health Channel, NSW Health and Health Insite.
Last revised: Monday, 18 January 2010
This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional.