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San Diego Health Officials Warn Of Contagious Bacterial Infection

Shigellosis is an infectious disease caused by a group of bacteria called Shi...

Credit: Centers For Disease Control

Above: Shigellosis is an infectious disease caused by a group of bacteria called Shigella.

A year after San Diego County battled a hepatitis A outbreak, health officials have issued an advisory of another highly contagious disease that also spreads through fecal contamination.

The Health and Human Services Agency is warning gay men, homeless people and those with a weakened immune system that they could be at an increased risk for shigellosis, an intestinal bacterial infection. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever and abdominal pain.

County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten said the bacteria that causes the disease is Shigella.

“You develop symptoms one to three days after being exposed, and the symptoms can last five to seven days,” Wooten said.

County officials report the number of cases typically increases in the late summer and fall and there have already been 98 cases of shigellosis to date in 2018. In 2017, a total of 334 cases were reported, representing a nearly 40 percent increase compared to 2016.

Wooten said a disproportionate increase has been seen in the gay community and among the homeless population.

“Because of the fact that they have been seen disproportionately in the homeless population, we also disseminated information to the staff at the tent shelters,” Wooten said, “so that they can be on the lookout for individuals who might have diarrhea,”

Wooten said averting an outbreak is essential. The bacteria is spread from person to person.

“So, if a person is infected and they go to the bathroom, and they don’t appropriately clean their hands,” she said, “they touch doorknobs or any objects in the community and someone else comes behind them who’s not infected and they touch those objects, and then they touch their hands to their mouth… then they can become infected.”

Wooten said the disease is treated with antibiotics, though some strains of the bacteria are resistant to the medication.

“If a person is infected, we want them to see a doctor,” Wooten said. “Particularly if they have bloody diarrhea so that their stool can be tested ... So that the appropriate antibiotics can be administered.”

Hand washing is the main way to prevent the disease, she said.

"Our message is that there is no outbreak, but there is a concern," she said. "We just want to make sure everyone is aware of this condition and what they can do to help prevent the spread of this infection.”

The Health and Human Services Agency is warning gay men, homeless people and those with a weakened immune system that they could be at an increased risk for shigellosis, an intestinal bacterial infection.

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