Saskatchewan health officials said in a news release Thursday that over the past several months, they have seen an increase in infections caused by the Shigella bacteria.
According to the release, Saskatchewan normally records between 10 and 15 cases a year, mostly related to foreign travel. Over the last four months, Saskatchewan has recorded 13 cases. The majority of these cases were found in children and were not linked to overseas travel except in one case. In many of the cases, the strain of the Shigella bacteria is similar, which would indicate ongoing person-to-person and household-to-household spread in Saskatchewan.
They go on to say that, most of the cases have been in central Saskatchewan in and around the Prince Albert area. While investigations are ongoing, no linkages to a particular food item or event have been identified.
Saskatchewan Deputy Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab noted the importance of handwashing in preventing the spread of Shigella: “The most important thing to remember is for everyone, even if they feel well, to wash hands often and frequently, especially after using the washroom. Some people infected with Shigella may have no or very mild symptoms but they can still pass the illness to others without knowing it”.
Shigellosis is an acute bacterial disease of the intestines caused by several species of the bacterium, Shigella. It is typified by loose stools, frequently containing blood and mucus (dysentery), accompanied by fever, vomiting, cramps and occasionally toxemia.
It can cause bacillary dysentery because of the invasive ability of the organism that may result ulcerations and abscesses of the intestines.
It rarely spreads to the bloodstream.
More severe complications may include convulsions in children, Reiter’s syndrome and hemolytic uremic syndrome depending on the species of Shigella implicated.
This diarrheal disease is found worldwide with the vast majority of cases and deaths being in children. Outbreaks usually occur where there are crowded conditions and where personal hygiene is poor: prisons, day care centers and refugee camps are three examples.
It is transmitted primarily by fecal-oral person to person means. It can also occur through contaminated food or water. Those that are primarily responsible for transmission are those that fail to wash their hands thoroughly after defecation.
Because Shigella is resistant to gastric acid, a person can get infected with as little as 10 organisms.
After getting infected symptoms usually appear 1-3 days later. It can be transmitted during the acute phase of infection till approximately four weeks after illness when the organism is no longer present in the feces. Asymptomatic carriers can also infect others.
Diagnosis is confirmed through bacteriological culture of feces. Treatment of shigellosis may include fluid and electrolyte replacement if there are signs of dehydration.
Antibiotics can shorten the course of infection, the severity of illness and the period of time a person may excrete the pathogen. Because of some antibiotic resistance, an antibiotic susceptibility test should be performed to determine which antibiotic would be effective.
Saskatchewan health advisepeople experiencing diarrhea, especially with fever, painful cramps, and mucus and/or blood to:
- Contact a doctor who will arrange for assessment and treatment;
- Stay home from work or school, and visiting friends and relatives, until at least 48 hours after the diarrhea has stopped. This is especially important for those who work in an occupation such as food service, childcare, eldercare or healthcare;
- Frequent and thorough hand washing with soap and running warm water, especially after using the toilet. This is the single most important way to stop the spread of Shigella; and
- Avoid preparing food for others.