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Shigellosis is an infectious illness. Symptoms can include severe diarrhoea (often with blood or mucous), vomiting, abdominal pain and fever. These symptoms can last from several days to several weeks, but usually 4-7 days.


It is caused by Shigella bacteria entering the body through the mouth usually from unwashed hands and sometimes from infected food or drink. Possible routes of the infection are:

  • infection from contaminated objects such as toys, door handles, pencils or cutlery
  • infection from food prepared by someone who already has the infection
  • drinking contaminated water or milk

How it is spread

It can be spread from person to person. If an infected person does not wash his or her hands properly after going to the toilet their hands may be contaminated with the bacteria. They can then pass the infection on, either by direct contact with other people or indirectly by preparing food or by touching objects. It is also possible to be a carrier and to spread germs without having any symptoms or even knowing that you are infected.

How to stop the infection spreading

People with diarrhoea and vomiting symptoms are the greatest risk. Once the symptoms have gone, the chances of spreading the infection are reduced. Anyone who has diarrhoea is advised to isolate themselves from others. If you handle food or drink or work with young children or elderly people you should tell your employer or supervisor.


  • wash hands thoroughly and regularly. Soap, hot water and a nail brush should be used. Small children should have their hands washed for them
  • wash hands before preparing or serving food and drink, handling children or babies and eating or drinking
  • wash hands after using or cleaning the toilet, attending to someone suffering from shigellosis, changing babies’ nappies or handling soiled clothes or sheets
  • boil soiled laundry for 10 minutes or wash using the hot setting on a domestic washing machine. Alternatively soak in a recommended disinfectant
  • use rubber gloves when cleaning the toilet
  • after the toilet has been used, wipe the flush handle, seat and door handle with a suitable disinfectant
  • use separate towels and flannels for each person in the household
  • handle food as little as possible, particularly when it is going to be eaten by other people


No treatment is usually given. In some cases antibiotics may be prescribed.

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