Shigella are bacteria that can infect the digestive tract and cause a wide range of symptoms, from diarrhea, cramping, vomiting, and nausea, to more serious complications and illnesses. Infections, called shigellosis, sometimes go away on their own; while other times, antibiotics can shorten the course of the illness.
Shigellosis, which is most common during the summer months, usually affects kids 2 to 4 years old and rarely infects infants younger than 6 months old.
These infections are very contagious and can be prevented with good hand washing practices.
Shigella bacteria produce toxins that can attack the lining of the large intestine, causing swelling, ulcers on the intestinal wall, and bloody diarrhea.
The severity of the diarrhea sets shigellosis apart from regular diarrhea. In kids with shigellosis, the first bowel movement is often large and watery. Later bowel movements may be smaller, but the diarrhea may have blood and mucus in it.
Other symptoms of shigellosis include:
In very severe cases of shigellosis, a person may have convulsions (seizures), a stiff neck, a headache, extreme tiredness, and confusion. Shigellosis can also lead to dehydration and in rare cases, other complications, like arthritis, skin rashes, and kidney failure.
Some children with severe cases of shigellosis may need to be hospitalized.
Shigellosis is very contagious. Someone may become infected by coming into in contact with something contaminated by stool from an infected person. This includes toys, surfaces in restrooms, and even food prepared by someone who is infected. For instance, kids who touch a contaminated surface such as a toilet or toy and then put their fingers in their mouths can become infected. Shigella can even be carried and spread by flies that have touched contaminated stool.
Because it doesn't take many Shigella bacteria to cause an infection, the illness spreads easily in families and childcare centers. The bacteria also may spread in water supplies in areas with poor sanitation. Shigella can be passed in the person's stool for about 4 weeks even after the obvious symptoms of illness have resolved (although antibiotic treatment can reduce the excretion of Shigella bacteria in the stool).
The best way to prevent the spread of Shigella is by frequent and careful hand washing with soap, especially after they use the toilet and before they eat. This is especially important in childcare settings.
If you're caring for a child who has diarrhea, wash your hands before touching other people and before handling food. (Anyone with a diarrhea should not prepare food for others.) Be sure to frequently clean and disinfect any toilet used by someone with shigellosis.
Diapers of a child with shigellosis should be disposed of in a sealed garbage can, and the diaper area should be wiped with disinfectant after use. Young children (especially those still in diapers) with shigellosis or with diarrhea of any cause should be kept away from other kids.
Proper handling, storage, and preparation of food can also help prevent Shigella infections. Cold foods should be kept cold and hot foods should be kept hot to prevent bacterial growth.
To confirm the diagnosis of shigellosis, your doctor may take a stool sample to be tested for Shigella bacteria. Blood tests and other tests can also rule out other possible causes of the symptoms, especially if your child has a large amount of blood in the stool.
Some cases of shigellosis require no treatment, but antibiotics often will be given to shorten the illness and to prevent the spread of bacteria to others.
If the doctor prescribes antibiotics, give them as prescribed. Avoid giving your child nonprescription medicines for vomiting or diarrhea unless the doctor recommends them, as they can prolong the illness. Acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) can be given to reduce fever and make your child more comfortable.
To prevent dehydration, follow your doctor's guidance about what your child should eat and drink. Your doctor may recommend a special drink called an oral rehydration solution, or ORS (such as Pedialyte), to replace body fluids quickly, especially if the diarrhea has lasted 2 or 3 days or more.
Children who become moderately or severely dehydrated or those with other more serious illnesses may need to be hospitalized to be monitored and receive treatment such as intravenous (IV) fluid therapy or antibiotics.
Call the doctor if your child has signs of a Shigella infection, including diarrhea with blood or mucus, accompanied by abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, or high fever.
Kids with diarrhea can quickly become dehydrated, which can lead to serious complications. Signs of dehydration include:
If you see any of these signs, call the doctor right away.
Reviewed by: Nicole A. Green, MD
Date reviewed: January 2014
|Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The CDC (the national public health institute of the United States) promotes health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability.|
|National Institutes of Health (NIH) NIH is an Agency under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and offers health information and scientific resources.|
|"Stomach Flu" Having the "stomach flu" usually means spending a lot of time in the bathroom. Find out more in this article for kids.|
|E. Coli Undercooked burgers and unwashed produce are among the foods that can harbor E. coli bacteria and lead to infection marked by severe diarrhea. Here's how to protect your family.|
|Fever and Taking Your Child's Temperature Although it can be frightening when your child's temperature rises, fever itself causes no harm and can actually be a good thing - it's often the body's way of fighting infections.|
|Cholera Cholera is an intestinal infection that mostly affects people in tropical regions. Find out more about cholera in this article for teens.|
|Food Poisoning Did you ever eat something that made you feel ooky? It might have been food poisoning.|
|Giardiasis Giardiasis, one of the chief causes of diarrhea in the United States, is an intestinal illness caused by a microscopic parasite.|
|Rotavirus Rotavirus infection affects most kids and is one of the most common causes of diarrhea. A vaccine to prevent it is now recommended for all kids.|
|Gastrointestinal Infections and Diarrhea Nearly everybody gets diarrhea every once in a while, and it's usually caused by gastrointestinal infections. It's nothing to be embarrassed about. Read this article to learn more.|
|Cholera While cholera isn't common in the U.S., it can be a health threat elsewhere. Learn about cholera and how to prevent it.|
|Adenovirus Adenoviruses account for about 10% of acute respiratory infections in kids and are a frequent cause of diarrhea.|
|Diarrhea Most kids battle diarrhea from time to time, so it's important to know what to do to relieve and even prevent it.|
|Amebiasis Amebiasis is an intestinal illness transmitted when someone eats or drinks something that's contaminated with a microscopic parasite.|
|Shigellosis Shigellosis is an intestinal infection caused by bacteria that can give a person bloody diarrhea and cause intestinal pain. Good hand washing is the best way to prevent shigellosis.|
|Stool Test: Bacteria Culture A stool culture helps doctors determine if there's a bacterial infection in the intestines.|
|Salmonellosis People often think of salmonellosis as food poisoning, but food is only one way the bacteria Salmonella can be spread.|
|Salmonellosis Salmonellosis is an illness caused by a bacteria found in raw food, soil, water and the bowel movements of some animals, including reptiles. Find out how to prevent this illness.|
|Why Do I Need to Wash My Hands? Washing your hands is the best way to stop germs from spreading. Learn all about the best way to wash your hands in this article for kids.|
|Why Is Hand Washing So Important? Did you know that proper hand washing is the best way to keep from getting sick? Here's how to teach this all-important habit to your kids.|
|What Are Germs? Germs are the microscopic bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa that can cause disease. With a little prevention, you can keep harmful germs out of your family's way.|
|Basic Blood Chemistry Tests Doctors order basic blood chemistry tests to assess a wide range of conditions and the function of organs.|
|E. Coli Undercooked burgers and unwashed produce are among the foods that can harbor E. coli bacteria and lead to infection and severe diarrhea. Here's how to protect yourself.|
|Vomiting Most vomiting is caused by gastroenteritis, and usually isn't serious. These home-care tips can help prevent dehydration.|
What to expect when coming to Akron Children's
For healthcare providers and nurses
Residency & Fellowships, Medical Students, Nursing and Allied Health
For prospective employees and career-seekers
Our online community that provides inspirational stories and helpful information.