Shigella sweeping across nation; cases surge in Palm Beach County
by K. Chandler
Westside Gazette
Originally posted 8/6/2008

Source of Article:  http://www.thewestsidegazette.com/news/Article/Article.asp?NewsID=90353&sID=20&ItemSource=L

 

Shigellosis — a potentially dangerous inflammatory disease of the bowel, and a cause of dysentary brought on by a group of harmful bacteria closely related to the Salmonella virus — is currently sweeping across Palm Beach County and South Florida with over-crowded minority and immigrant communities particularly impacted. At highest risk are infants and children as well as those with compromised immune systems.

For Bre A., a vibrant, healthy 13-year-old from Delray Beach, contracting Shigella from her infant cousin is something she will not likely forget any time soon. “I had gone to sleep and when I woke up I couldn’t stop shaking.” (It was later determined that she had experienced a minor seizure – a not uncommon occurrence among patients with Shigellosis.) Soon Bre began experiencing excruciating stomach cramps, severe, persistent diarrhea, vomiting, and a spiked fever along with blood in her stool.

It was dehydration, however, that caused Bre to be admitted to Bethesda Hospital in Boynton Beach for four days, during which time she was ‘hooked up to’ monitors and intravenous fluids, as she was unable to even tolerate a sip of water without throwing it back up.

“It was as if she had the worst case of food poisoning that you could imagine,” recalled Bre’s mother, Lexis. “Her fever spiked to 104 degrees and she was hot and cold at the same time. It was pretty touch and go there for a while.” Unfortunately, Bre’s situation was not the exception. Increasingly, ERs are experiencing a spike in patients exhibiting Shigella symptoms.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Shigella bacteria (for which there is no vaccine) can easily be passed from one “infected person to the next,” and is commonly transferred through contact with feces and/or contaminated food. Restaurants and fast food establishments are especially vulnerable. It is also frequently contracted and spread by infants and toddlers who are not yet completely potty-trained, especially those in daycare centers. Anyone coming in contact with a toddler’s dirty diapers is particularly at risk. Similarly, the risk of dehydration and convulsions in babies is of particular concern to health officials.

Approximately 25,000 confirmed cases of shigellosis are recorded annually in the U.S. among adults and children. Many medical experts including some employed with the CDC suspect however, that there may be upwards of a half million cases in the U. S. each year, with no reduction in sight.

“Food may become contaminated by infected food handlers who forget to wash their hands with soap after using the bathroom,” the CDC noted. “Vegetables can become contaminated if they are harvested from a field with sewage in it. Flies can breed in infected feces and then contaminate food. Water may become contaminated with Shigella bacteria if sewage runs into it, or if someone with shigellosis swims in or plays with it. Shigella infections can then be acquired by drinking, swimming in, or playing with the contaminated water. Outbreaks of shigellosis have also occurred among men who have sex with men.” Furthermore, Shigella bacteria can continue to remain in an asymptomatic patient’s stool for a month, making it possible to continue spreading it to others.

In order to avoid contracting Shigella, health agencies recommend the following:

  • Applying universal precautions — Frequent and careful hand washing with soap, encouraging children to do the same;
  • Careful food safety precautions, such as thoroughly washing vegetables and fruit and cleaning cutting boards, utensils, and kitchen countertops with hot, soapy water is advised when preparing food. Anyone with Shigellosis should not be involved with food preparation;
  • Drinking water believed to be contaminated should be disinfected and soiled clothing and bedding used by patients must be washed and sanitized.

 

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