Toddler allegedly dies of Shigella: What is this disease, how does it spread?

Three people have died of shigellosis in Kerala in less than 2 months.
Toddler allegedly dies of Shigella: What is this disease, how does it spread?
Toddler allegedly dies of Shigella: What is this disease, how does it spread?

Kerala is under the lens again, with reports of a shigella outbreak in parts of the state. On Monday, a 2-year-old boy was suspected to have died due to shigella infection (shigellosis) at the Kozhikode Medical College and Hospital, which if confirmed, would take the death toll from shigellosis to 4.

According to the World Health Organization, shigellosis is attributed to 165 million cases of severe dysentery throughout the world, each year, mostly in  children under the age of 5.

Shigella is a bacteria from the Enterobacteriaceae family which are known to cause gastroenteritis.

“Shigella is a bacteria that causes a diarrheal disease, which is commonly known as dysentery,” says Dr Jayashree, Kozhikode District Medical Officer (DMO). “It is transmitted through contaminated food and water. This young boy had eaten food which was bought outside, and it seems like this was the most likely source where he would’ve picked up the infection from.”

The intestinal infection which manifests as abdominal pain, cramps, nausea, vomiting, bloating and, most importantly, as loose stools which are often bloody.

“Often times, we see the infection in young children because it is transmitted through feco-oral route, and children don’t really maintain proper hygiene. You don’t know where they’ve been playing or where there hands have been,” says Dr Hemaswetha, a pediatrician from Chennai. “The diagnosis is made based on symptoms alone, and we start the child on antibiotics. In case they do not respond to antibiotics, then we do further tests and isolate for the organism.”

Boiling water, maintaining environmental cleanliness, washing hands after using the washroom, and other personal hygiene measures are the instructions given to the public.

Recently it has been reported that more antibiotic resistant strains of the bacteria are causing shigellosis.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, people who have weakened immunity (such as HIV/AIDS patients) are the ones who require extra attention, while most others generally recover from the infection with primary care measures itself. 

In June, Kerala issued a precautionary notice to the public after a 2 people from Kozhikode and 1 person from Thiruvananthapuram had lost their lives to the infection.

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