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County, city officials work to contain shigella outbreak among homeless residents

Shigellosis is an infectious disease caused by a group of bacteria called Shigella.
Centers For Disease Control
Shigellosis is an infectious disease caused by a group of bacteria called Shigella.

At least seven cases have been discovered after people were hospitalized.

A shigella outbreak among homeless residents has sent at least seven people to the hospital.

Dr. Victor Nizet, a professor of pediatrics and pharmacy at UC San Diego, said the bacterial infection referred to as shigellosis is a food borne illness related to E. coli and salmonella and is very contagious.

"If you’re in close contact with an infected individual even if you’re being really careful it’s possible to get an infection," Nizet said.

County and city officials are setting up additional hand washing stations and portable restrooms in areas where unsheltered residents are staying. They are also deploying county nurses to local shelters and increasing sanitation measures there.

“Protecting the health and safety of our residents — especially those who are unsheltered and particularly vulnerable — is our foremost priority,” said San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria and Supervisor Nathan Fletcher in a joint statement. “We do not want this to descend into a public-health crisis, so our teams are taking swift action now to help prevent widespread transmission."

Nizet said for most people shigellosis symptoms are mild.

"Some diarrhea, maybe a low-grade fever, abdominal cramping and it even self-resolves on its own," he said.

People with underlying conditions are more susceptible to bad outcomes and being hospitalized, but in the United States fatalities are rare.

Nizet says health officials are likely working to sanitize areas where known cases have been reported and testing those who could have been exposed. No deaths have been reported among the seven cases and those hospitalized are expected to make a recovery.

County health officials said they are also distributing more hygiene kits and educational information about shigellosis to unsheltered residents.

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