What is a Shigella Infection?

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  • Written By: Nat Robinson
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 12 October 2019
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A shigella infection is an illness caused by shigella bacteria. This type of bacteria usually causes a disruption in the intestines. For this reason, most of the symptoms of a shigella infection are gastrointestinal related. Shigellosis is another common name of this illness. Generally, the infection is most dominant in young children and the elderly, although, anyone can potentially contract the bacteria.

In most cases, shigella bacteria concentrates in the lining of the intestines. A shigella infection may be referred to as a diarrhea illness, as diarrhea is typically the result of exposure to the bacteria. Many people who contract this infection will do so after being exposed in a variety of ways. The bacteria is typically most concentrated in stools, and if a person comes into contact with a stool containing shigella, he or she may become infected. Additionally, the bacteria may be found in water and foods that have been contaminated.


Generally a shigella infection is most often acquired by children and the elderly. Very young children may not thoroughly wash their hands after a trip to the bathroom. This may present the opportunity to not only come into contact with the bacteria, but to pass it on as well. Elderly individuals, in particular those who are disabled and residing in nursing homes, may acquire the infection as they may no longer be able to tend to very personal needs in the manner they were once able to. This infection can be very contagious and is most commonly spread by inadequate hand washing.

Nearly all of the symptoms of a shigella infection are gastrointestinal related. Diarrhea is the foremost symptom of this condition. The diarrhea may also have a bloody appearance. Many people will also experience nausea, vomiting, cramping and abdominal pain. Non-intestinal symptoms may include fatigue, fever, dehydration and headaches and, in some cases, young children with high fevers may have seizures.

The primary way to diagnose a shigella infection is to obtain a stool sample to check for the presence of the bacteria. Once a clear diagnosis is made, a person may be treated by receiving intravenous fluids for dehydration. In addition, antibiotics may be prescribed to cure the infection, although, some cases of this infection may not require any intensive treatments. If a person suspects that he or she may have this infection, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Generally, a good way to prevent the illness is to practice good hygiene by washing the hands frequently and thoroughly.


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