Vomiting and diarrhea are symptoms of Shigella, so combating dehydration is important. A doctor may also prescribe antibiotics to fight the illness. In some situations, hospitalization may be required.

Shigellosis is a bacterial infection that affects the digestive system. It’s caused by a group of bacteria called Shigella.

The Shigella bacterium is spread through contaminated water and food or through contact with contaminated feces. The bacteria release toxins that irritate the intestines, causing the primary symptom of diarrhea.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 450,000 people in the United States report having shigellosis every year. The symptoms vary in intensity. You may have a mild shigellosis infection and not even realize or report it.

Young children are more likely than older children and adults to get shigellosis. This may be because young children put their fingers in their mouths often and are more likely to ingest the bacteria. The large number of diaper changes in childcare centers may also increase the concentration of infection in this age group.

Frequent bouts of watery diarrhea are the main symptom of shigellosis. Abdominal cramping, nausea, and vomiting may also occur. Many people who have shigellosis also have either blood or mucus in their stool, and they may run a fever.

Symptoms usually begin within 1–2 days of coming in contact with Shigella. In some cases, symptoms of infection may appear in as little as 12 hours after contact.

Diarrhea and other signs of shigellosis usually last between 5–7 days. Mild infection lasting a couple of days may not require treatment.

It’s still possible for Shigella bacteria to be present in your stool for weeks after your symptoms have gone away. This means that you can potentially spread the infection to others for several weeks, even though you feel better.

It’s critical to stay hydrated in between bouts of diarrhea. Call your doctor if you have diarrhea for longer than 3 days. This is very important, especially if you can’t keep down food or water. Dehydration is a real danger associated with shigellosis.

Combating dehydration is the main goal of treatment for most cases of shigellosis. It’s important to drink plenty of fluids, especially electrolyte solutions, many of which are available over the counter.

It’s usually not advisable to take any type of medication to relieve your diarrhea, as this will keep the bacteria in your system longer and may make the infection worse.

Moderate or severe infections may require medical treatment. Treatment will usually include antibiotics to eliminate the bacteria from your digestive tract.

Your doctor may test your stool to confirm that Shigella is the source of the infection. Confirmation of Shigella helps your doctor to choose the right medication to fight shigellosis. Drug options include powerful antibiotic medications, such as:

Hospitalization for shigellosis is rare. However, in some severe situations, hospitalization is required. If you have extreme nausea and vomiting, you may need intravenous fluids and medication.

Most people have no lasting ill effects from shigellosis.

The CDC reports that approximately 2 percent of people who contract Shigella flexneri (one of several types of Shigella) develop a condition called post-infection arthritis. Symptoms of post-infection arthritis include joint pain, painful urination, and eye irritation.

Post-infection arthritis can become a chronic condition that lasts several months, years, or the rest of your life. It’s caused by a reaction to the Shigella infection and happens only in people who are genetically predisposed to it.

Other potential but rare complications of shigellosis include bloodstream infections, seizures in young children, and hemolytic-uremic syndrome.

Shigella is a group of several different bacteria. Once you’ve contracted one type of Shigella, you’re unlikely to develop an infection from the same bacteria again. However, you may contract a different bacterium from the same family.

You can prevent shigellosis by practicing good personal hygiene:

  • Wash your hands before and after you use the bathroom or change a diaper
  • Discard dirty diapers in a closed bag or trashcan to prevent the spread of the bacteria
  • Use soap and warm water every time you wash your hands
  • Wipe down changing tables and kitchen counters with antibacterial wipes before and after use.

Avoid close personal contact with someone who has shigellosis until at least several days after the diarrhea has ended. People who have shigellosis shouldn’t prepare food for others until they feel better and stop having diarrhea.

Your doctor may test your stool again after your symptoms end to be sure Shigella is no longer present.