Shigella (bowel infection)
- Shigella infection is also called shigellosis — a type of infection of the stomach and intestines caused by the Shigella bacteria (germ).
- People can get infected through contaminated food or water. You can also catch Shigella from contact with an infected person.
- People of any age can get Shigella infection, but young children are the most likely to be infected. People with weak immune systems can have more severe illness.
- Symptoms include diarrhoea, fever, nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps.
- Treatment includes drinking liquids to prevent dehydration. Sometimes antibiotics are needed, which can also stop you spreading the germ to other people.
- Good hand hygiene and staying home when you are sick can reduce your chance of catching or spreading Shigella infection.
What is Shigella?
Shigella infection is also called shigellosis. It is a type of gastroenteritis (infection of the stomach and intestines). It is caused by the Shigella bacteria (germ). Shigellosis causes diarrhoea (loose or runny poo). People can get infected through food or water that is ‘contaminated’. This means the food or water has the germ that causes the sickness. You can catch Shigella from contact with an infected person. You can also catch it through food and water that has been contaminated by someone who has the germ.
What are the symptoms of a Shigella infection?
Signs of shigellosis include:
- diarrhoea (which may contain mucus or blood in it)
- nausea and vomiting
- stomach cramps
Symptoms usually start from one to 3 days after you get infected.
Some people may be infected with Shigella but not have any signs of sickness. In rare cases, people can have Shigella bacteria in their poo for many months.
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What causes Shigella?
You can get a shigellosis by:
- eating unclean food or water
- touching contaminated objects
- having oral or anal sex with an infected person
Contaminated objects can be things like taps, nappies and toys that are not clean. The germ can get into your body if you touch your mouth after touching these objects.
Who is at risk of Shigella infection?
People of any age can get Shigella infection. Young children are the most likely to be infected.
Sometimes people can get Shigella infections if they travel overseas. The chance of getting Shigella is highest if you visit developing countries.
People with weak immune systems can have more severe illness.
How is Shigella diagnosed?
If you have symptoms of shigellosis your doctor will do a stool (poo) test. This will show if you have Shigella infection.
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How is Shigella treated?
If you have a Shigella infection it's important to drink liquids to prevent dehydration. Dehydration can be serious, especially in babies and older adults.
UIt’s best to avoid using anti-diarrhoea medicines as these may prolong your illness.
Most people will get better on their own within a week without any medicine. However, your doctor may tell you to take antibiotics to help you get better. The antibiotics can also stop you spreading the germ to other people.
Can Shigella be prevented?
There are no vaccines against Shigella.
There are ways to reduce your chance of catching or spreading Shigella infection. You should wash your hands well after using the bathroom or changing nappies. Washing your hands is also important before you prepare or eat food.
People with shigellosis can spread the germ to others. You should not go to day care, school or work while you are sick. You need to stay away until you have no signs of sickness for at least 24 hours.
People who have jobs handling food, caring for children, older people or sick people need to stay away from work for longer. You need to stay home until you have no signs of sickness for at least 48 hours. This is because people who work in these jobs are at higher risk of spreading the Shigella bacteria. They also have a higher risk of spreading other gastro illnesses.
People with diarrhoea should not go swimming until their diarrhoea has stopped for at least 24 hours. This includes babies, young children and adults.
Resources and support
If you want to know more about Shigellosis, talk to your doctor or call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak to, 24 hours, 7 days a week.
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Last reviewed: September 2022