As of December 12, 2023, Spokane Regional Health District (SRHD) has confirmed 57 cases of shigellosis, a diarrheal illness, primarily among members of the community experiencing homelessness. Panhandle Health District (PHD) has confirmed four cases of shigellosis among residents of Kootenai County. It is not yet known if the cases in Spokane County are linked to the cases in Kootenai County.

Shigellosis is a gastrointestinal infection caused by the bacteria shigella. It can spread easily from one person to another via fecal-oral transmission with symptoms of diarrhea, fever, and stomach pain. Symptoms usually start one to four days after infection and last about seven days. However, the bacteria can continue to be shed in feces up to two weeks after diarrhea has subsided.

Although anyone can get shigellosis, groups at higher risk for infection or severe illness include:

  • People who are experiencing homelessness
  • Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men
  • People who have recently traveled internationally
  • Children younger than 5 years old
  • People who have weakened immune systems

“We are seeing community-wide transmission among those experiencing homelessness,” said Health Officer Dr. Francisco Velazquez. “At the end of the day, if we’re mindful of hygiene and sanitization, then we can prevent the spread of communicable diseases.”

Velazquez recommends washing hands well and often (especially after using the bathroom, changing diapers and before preparing or eating food), cleaning high-touch surfaces throughout the day, and encouraging those around you to practice good handwashing and use hand sanitizer. 

“We will continue to monitor the situation in our area and are thankful for our partnerships with SRHD and the state,” said Jeff Weigel, epidemiologist program manager at PHD. “We have alerted local healthcare providers to be diligent with any patients presenting with shigellosis symptoms and to contact us immediately.” 

In addition, it is important for food services, restaurants, and meal sites to emphasize the importance of hand washing and sanitization as part of their processes and procedures. 

To support organizations who are most affected by the current outbreak, SRHD has taken the following actions:

  • Provided guidance and in-person training to homeless shelters, service providers and meal sites on how to improve handwashing and sanitization to prevent further spread
  • Communicated with health care partners and emergency responders, providing awareness via regular updates, a county-wide Provider Alert, and a provider-focused web page
  • Provided homeless shelters with additional supplies of hand sanitizer, body wipes and personal undergarments
  • Educated food establishments (including grocery stores) and the Food Coalition on safe food handling, hand hygiene and sanitation practices

The following resources from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) can provide more information: