Shigella: Understanding the Rise of Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria in Children Under 5

Shigella is a type of bacteria that causes an infection known as shigellosis, which can lead to bloody diarrhea, fever, stomach pain, and other symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned of an increase in antibiotic-resistant shigella, which is more difficult to treat and can cause potentially serious public health concerns. The majority of shigella infections occur in children under the age of 5, and parents of young children are understandably concerned about the illness.

According to the CDC, there are four species of shigella, with Shigella sonnei being the most common form in the United States. Shigellosis is a fecal-oral disease, meaning it is spread when particles from feces get into your mouth. The most common ways to contract shigellosis include touching infected surfaces such as toys or bathroom fixtures, changing the diaper of a child with shigella, eating food prepared by someone with a shigella infection, swallowing water you swim or play in, and swallowing contaminated drinking water.

Shigella can be spread routinely among young children with poor handwashing, and outbreaks can occur in day care centers and schools. Bessey Geevarghese, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital, advises that doctors and parents should suspect shigella if a child is having blood with poop and mucus, along with stomach cramps. However, it can be hard to distinguish shigella from other gastrointestinal illnesses, even for doctors. Symptoms of shigellosis include diarrhea that can be bloody or last more than three days, fever, stomach pain, and feeling the need to defecate even when the bowels are empty.

Doctors can diagnose shigella through a stool culture, which will help them know which antibiotics can be effective against the strain of shigella your child has. The main danger from shigellosis is dehydration, and if your child is struggling, they may be given oral antibiotics for three to five days. Most people with shigella infections can recover on their own, but hospitalization and antibiotics through an IV may be necessary if your child is not doing well or is getting worse, especially if dehydration is involved.

While your child is more likely to come down with an infection such as norovirus than they are to get shigella, it is still important to be cautious. Doctors stress the importance of being aware of shigella and knowing what to look for and when to have your child evaluated. Good handwashing cannot be stressed enough, as it can help prevent the spread of shigella and other illnesses.

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