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Shigellosis has become a common word in Marion Countians' vocabulary lately with an outbreak of cases, especially in local school children.
The highly contagious infection started to show its ugly face in Marion County in July, but since school has started approximately 84 cases have been confirmed, according to Wendy Keown, director of school health services for the Lincoln Trail District Health Department.
"When cases were first reported in the schools, the largest concentration was in Lebanon Elementary and Glascock, with a few cases scattered in other schools," Keown said. "Since fall break, the majority of confirmed cases have been at West Marion."
Poor hand washing is the most common cause for the spread of Shigellosis. With children in close proximity to one another and poor hand washing practices, the infection spreads very quickly, Keown said.
"Younger children especially, touch a lot of items, share a lot of items and don't wash their hands frequently," she said.
Keown encourages parents to teach their children to wash hands with soap and water thoroughly after using the bathroom, before eating and frequently throughout the day.
And, if your child is sick, keep him or her home, Keown said.
"Please keep your child home if they are having diarrhea and take them to their primary health care provider to be tested for Shigellosis and to receive antibiotic therapy," she said. "Children with Shigellosis must have two negative stool specimens on two consecutive days 48 hours after finishing antibiotics before returning to school."
The Marion County Schools have been working with the Health Department to try to prevent and stop the spread of Shigellosis, Keown said.
"Surfaces are being cleaned frequently with bleach solutions and food is now being served instead of being self-serve," she said.
Marion County Superintendent Dr. Chuck Hamilton said schools are typically the cleanest public places anywhere, and school employees have been cleaning regularly with disinfectants.
"But this is no different than we do normally to combat the flu and common cold," Hamilton said. "We have also worked very closely with our school nurses to educate students about hand washing and other good health habits."
Hamilton also said school buses are cleaned regularly, but if there appears to be a particular bus with sick children the district uses a disinfectant-bomb on the bus over the weekend.
School officials have also sent information home to parents regarding the Shigellosis infection.
According to Hamilton, attendance percentages for the district haven't varied much this year compared to last. As a district, there have been approximately 54 cases of Shigella during the first 63 days of school, he said. However, the length of time students are out in recovery is longer than normal, so the district is providing homebound services in those cases when requested, Hamilton said.
"The families and individuals dealing with the symptoms have my deepest sympathies as it is a very unpleasant health issue," he said.
Jennifer Osbourne, senior health educator at the Marion County Health Department, said during the nine years she's been at the health department, she doesn't remember the county having an outbreak like this. And, what's possibly making matters worse is that some children are going to school sick with the infection.
"If you do have any of the symptoms stay home," Osbourne said.
Help stop the spread of Shigellosis:
• Wash hands frequently with soap and water, especially after using the restroom, before preparing food and before eating.
• If you or your family member have diarrhea, contact your primary care provider. A lab test can be performed on a stool specimen and can determine if you or your family member have Shigellosis. Antibiotics treatment can be ordered.
• If you or your child has diarrhea, do not go to school, sports events, community events, church, scouts, etc. Stay at home.
• If you have Shigellosis, you must not attend daycare or school until two negative stool specimens are obtained at least 24 hours apart and at least 48 hours after finishing antibiotics.
• Proof of negative laboratory results must be given to childcare providers and schools before returning.
• If someone is sick in your home with Shigellosis, clean faucets, door knobs and any other hard surface that can be frequently touched with a bleach solution made from the instructions on the product label. Frequent cleaning is needed, especially in bathrooms and kitchens.
• If you have diarrhea, do not prepare food for anyone until 24 hours after the last symptom.
What is Shigellosis?
Shigellosis is an infectious disease caused by a group of bacteria called Shigella. Most who are infected with Shigella develop diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps starting a day or two after they are exposed to the bacteria. The diarrhea is often bloody. Shigellosis usually resolves in five to seven days.
How can Shigella infections be treated?
Persons with mild infections usually recover quickly without antibiotic treatment. However, appropriate antibiotic treatment kills Shigella bacteria, and may shorten the illness by a few days. Antidiarrheal agents such as loperamide (Imodium*) or diphenoxylate with atropine (Lomotil*) can make the illness worse and should be avoided.
How do people catch Shigella?
The Shigella bacteria pass from one infected person to the next. Shigella are present in the diarrheal stools of infected persons while they are sick and for up to a week or two afterwards. Most Shigella infections are the result of the bacterium passing from stools or soiled fingers of one person to the mouth of another person. This happens when basic hygiene and handwashing habits are inadequate. It is particularly likely to occur among toddlers who are not fully toilet-trained. Family members and playmates of such children are at high risk of becoming infected.
What can a person do to prevent this illness?
Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent Shigellosis. However, the spread of Shigella from an infected person to other persons can be stopped by frequent and careful handwashing with soap.
Source: Centers for Disease Control