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Shigella (bowel infection)

3-minute read

Shigella infection, also called shigellosis, is a type of gastroenteritis (infection of the gut) caused by the Shigella bacteria. It usually causes diarrhoea. People can become infected through contaminated food or water, or through direct contact with even tiny amounts of stool (poo) from an infected person.

Symptoms of Shigella infection

Symptoms usually start from 1 to 3 days after you become infected. The main symptoms include:

However, you can be infected with Shigella but not have any symptoms. In rare cases, people without symptoms can still have Shigella bacteria in their poo for many months.

How is Shigella spread?

You can get shigellosis by:

  • eating food or water contaminated with the bacteria
  • touching contaminated objects such as taps, nappies and toys and then touching your mouth
  • having oral or anal sex with an infected person

Who is at risk of Shigella infection?

Young children are the most likely to be infected but people of all ages can be affected.

Up to half of diagnosed Shigella infections in Australia are linked to overseas travel. The risk is highest for Australians visiting Africa, Central America, South America and Asia.

People with weakened immune systems can experience more severe illness.

Diagnosis and treatment of Shigella infection

Shigella infection is usually diagnosed by a stool (poo) test.

It’s important to drink enough fluids to prevent dehydration during a Shigella infection. Dehydration can be serious, especially in babies and older adults.

In most cases, people will get better on their own, within a week, without medicine. However, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to relieve symptoms and reduce the risk of infecting others.

Prevention of Shigella infection

There are no vaccines available to protect against Shigella.

To reduce your risk of catching or spreading Shigella infection, wash your hands well after using the bathroom or changing nappies, and before preparing or eating food.

People with Shigella infection should not go to day care, school or work for at least 24 hours after their symptoms have stopped. If you handle food as part of your work or care for children, older people or sick people, do not return to work until at least 48 hours after your symptoms have stopped. People who work in these jobs are at higher risk of spreading Shigella infection or any type of gastroenteritis.

Babies, young children and adults with diarrhoea should not go swimming until at least 24 hours after the diarrhoea has stopped.

Where to go for help

If you are concerned about your symptoms, use healthdirect’s Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

Last reviewed: April 2018

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