Although most people aren’t familiar with this disease (Shih-GEH-luh), it is the sixth leading cause of foodborne illness in the U.S. Shigella most often affects children under the age of four, the elderly, and people with weak immune systems. It often only takes a few cells of Shigella to cause illness, although in healthy people, the disease will usually clear up in 5 to 7 days. The bacteria are very heat sensitive and are easily destroyed by cooking and pasteurization. Not as fortunately, they can survive the harsh conditions of the human stomach.
Illness symptoms usually start within 8 hours to 2 days, and almost always include diarrhea – yuck. The diarrhea is usually bloody and may come with vomiting, cramps or fever. In some severe cases there can be so much diarrhea, a dangerous condition known as dysentery can develop, which may lead to death. Fortunately, this is not common.
Most of the time, Shigella comes from fecally (poop) contaminated food or water. Food becomes contaminated when a person who is sick with Shigellosis doesn’t wash his or her hands after using the restroom, and then handles food. Flies are also a common carrier of Shigella. This is a great reason to keep flies away from your food! One minute they are sitting on a pile of….you know what. The next minute, they’re hanging out on your potato salad.
Good prevention for Shigella includes thorough handwashing, and keeping flies out of food preparation areas.