The Iredell County Health Department announced last Thursday it is seeing an increase in the number of Shigella infections.

Shigellosis infection is a highly infectious disease caused by a group of bacteria called Shigella, the health department said. People infected with Shigella may have stomach cramping, mild or severe diarrhea, often with traces of blood or mucus in the stool and fever.

Some infected people may not show any symptoms. Symptoms occur from 1-7 days after exposure, but usually within 1-3 days. Symptoms last an average of 4-7 days.

Persons with any diarrheal illness should stay home from child care, school or group activities, and should not participate in jobs involving food preparation or healthcare until their diarrhea has resolved.

Routine and thorough hand washing and cleaning of surfaces in the above settings is important to limiting the spread of the disease.

Most Shigella infections are the result of bacteria passing from improperly washed hands of one person to the mouth of another person, often through handling contaminated objects or food. Poor hand washing and hygiene (especially after changing diapers or toileting) increases the risk of infection.

Shigella infections are particularly likely to occur among toddlers who are not fully toilet-trained, the health department said. Family members and playmates of such children are at high risk of becoming infected.

Healthcare providers are required to report Shigella infections to Public Health. Iredell County Health Department is following up with each diagnosed person to help minimize the risk of spreading the infection to friends, family, and other contacts.

People who experience diarrhea for more than two days should see their healthcare provider and ask about being tested for Shigella, the department said. This is especially true for people who had contact with someone diagnosed with Shigella.