As people prepare to make their holiday meals, Stanislaus County health officials are imploring them to practice proper hygiene to help stop a spreading diarrheal infection.
Stanislaus County has seen an increase in Shigella infections this year. According to the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency, there has been 123 confirmed cases of Shigella in the county this year, which is a significant increase from the 19 reported in 2015.
Most Shigella infections are the result of bacteria passing from improperly washed hands from one person to the mouth of another person, often through handling contaminated objects or food. Poor hand washing and hygiene, especially after changing diapers or toileting, increases the risk of infection.
"Regular and frequent hand washing with soap and running water is the single most important preventive measure to interrupt the spread of shigellosis. Everyone should thoroughly wash their hands after using the restroom or changing diapers and before eating or preparing food. People diagnosed with Shigella infection should be especially vigilant in their hand washing practices," said Dr. John Walker, the public health officer for Stanislaus County.
Shigellosis is a highly infectious disease caused by a group of bacteria called Shigella. People infected with Shigella may have fever, stomach cramping, and mild or severe diarrhea, often with traces of blood or mucus in the stool. However, some infected people may not show any symptoms at all. Symptoms occur from one to seven days after exposure, but usually within one to three days, and last an average of four to seven days.
Approximately 500,000 cases of Shigella are reported in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2013, the CDC declared antibiotic-resistant Shigella an urgent threat in the United States. These cases had been seen for years overseas, but more recently, the CDC has seen outbreaks of the infection that are resistant to the two main prescribed antibiotics for Shigella - ampicillin and trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole. About 27,000 Shigella infections in the United States every year are resistant to one or both of these antibiotics. When pathogens are resistant to common antibiotic medications, patients may need to be treated with medications that may be less effective, but more toxic and expensive.
Healthcare providers are required to report Shigella infections to the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency so that follow up with each diagnosed person may help to minimize the risk of spreading the infection to friends, family, and other contacts. People who experience diarrhea for more than two days should see their healthcare provider and ask about being tested for Shigella. Antibiotics can be prescribed to treat shigellosis and also decrease the time a person can pass the infection to others.
Persons with any diarrheal illness should stay home from child care, school or group activities, and should not participate in jobs involving food preparation or healthcare until their diarrhea has resolved. Routine and thorough hand washing and cleaning of surfaces is important to limiting the spread of the disease.