Confirmed cases of shigella increase in area

ALBANY — While the number of confirmed cases has increased, the number of people suspected to have of shigella has decreased over the last several days, officials with the Southwest Public Health District said Tuesday.

“We are still seeing clusters in day care centers and elementary schools,” said District Director Dr. Jacqueline Grant.

The first clusters of the outbreak were first detected in September among Worth County children, which eventually expanded to older children and adults. Now, there are at least a dozen confirmed cases throughout the 14-county health district.

Worth County, which was initially the hardest hit area, has four confirmed cases with fewer people now showing symptoms. Early County has three confirmed cases, and Thomas County has four confirmed cases.

Grant said that Dougherty County has the highest number of confirmed cases, but was unable to give an exact figure.

Early does have a few additional people that are symptomatic, but not many. Thomas has 70 people showing symptoms of the disease, Grant said.

“We are happy to see the number of symptomatic people decrease,” Grant said. “These outbreaks can take awhile (to clear). We’ve done a lot of work in stepping up hand washing.”

A shigella outbreak can be especially bothersome in that regard because people can get re-infected, Grant said. Over the last several weeks, the district has distributed educational materials via video and letters to promote proper hand hygiene to prevent the spread of the disease.

Shigella, a bacterial infection, is a disease that is spread fecally and orally through infected people sharing food or beverages, or touching surfaces that are then touched by others. Its symptoms include diarrhea — which is often bloody — fever and stomach cramps.

It can only be prevented by proper hand washing. It tends to be seen more often in day care settings, officials have said.

“We need supervision of hand washing (in day care centers and elementary schools),” Grant said. “There are some antibiotics that can be used, but antibiotics often develop resistance quickly — so prevention (of shigella) centers around hand washing.”

Officials say that it is possible for someone infected to not have symptoms and pass it along to someone else. People with shigella are advised to not prepare food or beverages for others until they have been shown to no longer be carrying the shigella bacterium, or until they have had no diarrhea for seven days.

Sick children should not return to school until they’ve produced fully-formed stools for 48 hours and are free of symptoms. The infection typically clears up on its own in five to seven days.

The public health recommendations regarding the disease are:

  • Do not use Lomotil (Diphenoxylate and Atropine), Imodium (loperamide) or similar over-the-counter medications for diarrhea, which will worsen the illness and prolong bacterial shedding;

  • Consult a health care provider if symptoms present;

  • Schools and child care providers should contact their local county health department if they see two or more children with symptoms of shigella.