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Shigella (Shigellosis): Symptoms, Causes, Prevention, Treatment

Author: Thomas C. Weiss : Contact: Disabled World (

Published: 2015-10-27 : (Rev. 2020-12-10)

Synopsis and Key Points:

Information regarding Shigella infection (shigellosis), an intestinal disease with the main sign being diarrhea, which is often bloody.

Signs and symptoms of shigella infection usually start a day or two after contact with shigella, yet might take up to a week to develop.

A shigella infection usually clears up without complications, although it might take weeks or even months before your bowel habits return to usual.

Main Digest

Shigellosis, (Bacillary dysentery or Marlow Syndrome), is defined as a foodborne illness caused by infection by bacteria of the genus Shigella. The causative organism is frequently found in water polluted with human feces, and is transmitted via the fecal-oral route. The usual mode of transmission is directly person-to-person hand-to-mouth, in the setting of poor hygiene among children. Signs and symptoms of Shigellosis can range from mild abdominal discomfort to full-blown dysentery characterized by cramps, diarrhea, with slimy-consistent stools, fever, blood, pus, or mucus in stools or tenesmus.

Example: This may happen in a child care setting when staff members do not wash their hands well enough after changing diapers, or helping toddlers with toilet training. Shigella bacteria can also be passed in contaminated food, or by drinking or swimming in contaminated water. Children between the ages of two and four are most likely to experience a shigella infection. A mild case commonly clears up on its own within a week. When treatment is required, a doctor will generally prescribe antibiotics.

Symptoms of Shigella Infection

Signs and symptoms of shigella infection usually start a day or two after contact with shigella, yet might take up to a week to develop. The signs and symptoms can include the following:

While some people experience no symptoms after they have been infected with shigella, their feces might continue to be contagious for up to a few weeks. It is important to contact a doctor or pursue urgent care if you or your child has bloody diarrhea, or diarrhea severe enough to cause weight loss and dehydration. Contact a doctor if you or your child had diarrhea and a fever of 101F or higher.


A shigella infection occurs when a person accidentally swallows shigella bacteria. Examples of causes of a shigella infection include the following.

Risk Factors

One of the risk factors for a shigella infection is simply being a toddler. Shigella infection is most common in children who are between the ages of two and four. Another risk factor is living or traveling in areas lacking sanitation. People who live or travel to developing countries are more likely to contract shigella infection. Additional risk factors include:


A shigella infection usually clears up without complications, although it might take weeks or even months before your bowel habits return to usual. Complications of a shigella infection may include:

Treating Shigella Infection

Diarrhea and bloody diarrhea may result from a number of different diseases. Confirming shigellosis involves taking a sample of a person's stool to be tested in a laboratory for the presence of shigella bacteria, or their toxins. Shigella infection usually runs its course in five to seven days. Replacing lost fluids from diarrhea might be all the treatment a person needs, especially if their general health is good and their shigella infection is mild. Avoid drugs intended to treat diarrhea such as loperamide or atropine because they might worsen the condition.

For severe shigella infection, antibiotics may shorten the duration of the illness. Some shigella bacteria; however, have become drug resistant. It is better not to take antibiotics unless your shigella infection is severe. Antibiotics might also be necessary for infants, seniors, or people who have HIV infection, as well as in situations where there is a high risk of spreading the disease.

For adults who are generally healthy, drinking water might be enough to counteract the dehydrating effects of diarrhea. Children may benefit from an oral rehydration solution such as Pedialyte. Children and adults who are severely dehydrated need treatment in an emergency room, where they can receive fluids and salts intravenously instead of by mouth. Intravenous hydration provides the body with water and essential nutrients more rapidly than oral solutions do.


Even though the World Health Organization has been working on a shigella vaccine, nothing is available at this time. To prevent the spread of shigella, wash your hands often and thoroughly. Supervise small children when they wash their hands, and dispose of soiled diapers appropriately. Disinfect diaper-changing areas after use. Do not prepare food for others if you have diarrhea.

Keep children with diarrhea home from child care, school, or play groups. Avoid swallowing water from lakes, ponds or untreated pools. Avoid sexual activities with anyone who has diarrhea, or who recently recovered from diarrhea.

Shigella Facts and Statistics

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