Shigellosis, also known as Shigella infection, is an intestinal disease caused by a family of bacteria known as Shigella. The most characteristic manifestation of shigellosis is diarrhea, which is most often bloody.

The disease can be transmitted through direct contact with feces contaminated with the bacteria. For example, this can be used in childcare when staff at the nursery have not washed their hands well enough after changing nappies or when accompanying children to the toilet.

Shigella bacteria can also be spread through contaminated food or drink or by bathing in contaminated water.

Children between 2 and 4 years of age are most likely to develop shigellosis. The mild form usually resolves in about a week. When treatment is needed, doctors mostly prescribe antibiotics.


Clinical manifestations of shigellosis usually begin a day or two after contact with shigella.

The most characteristic of them are:

• Diarrhea – most often the stool contains blood or mucus;
• Abdominal cramps;
• Fever;

Although some people show no symptoms after being infected with shigella, their stool is still contagious.

When should you seek medical attention?

A medical professional should be consulted if bloody diarrhea is present or if it is severe enough to cause dehydration. It is also recommended to consult a doctor in case of diarrhea that is accompanied by an increased body temperature above 38 degrees Celsius.

What are the causes?

Infection occurs through accidental ingestion of shigella bacteria.

This can happen when:

• When touching the mouth, if hands are not washed after changing the diaper of a child who already has shigellosis. Direct person-to-person contact is the most common way to spread the disease.

• Consumption of contaminated food – infected people with shigella bacteria can contaminate the food they prepare and thus infect those who will consume it. Food can be contaminated with these bacteria if it is stored or grown in places where there is contact with sewage.

• Ingestion of contaminated water – can become contaminated either from sewage or if a person with shigellosis has bathed or swam in it.

Risk factors

• Young children are at risk – shigellosis is most common among children aged 2 to 4.

• Occupancy of living quarters with large groups of people. Close contact with many people facilitates the spread of the bacteria from person to person. Outbreaks of Shigella bacteria are most common in child care centers, nursing homes, prisons, and barracks.

• Living or traveling in areas where there is no sewage system. People who live or travel in developing countries are among the groups at highest risk of contracting a Shigella infection.

Treatment of Shigellosis

Shigella infection usually lasts for about 5-7 days. Restoring the fluids lost due to diarrhea is, in most cases, all that is necessary to treat this disease. If the general state of health of the respective patient is good, shigellosis is mild.

It is important to avoid taking medications to treat diarrhea, such as loperamide and diphenoxylate with atropine, as these medications could worsen the patient’s condition.

In severe shigellosis, antibiotics can shorten the course of the disease. However, some strains of Shigella bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics. Therefore, it is better to resort to them only as a last resort.

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