Communities combating shigella since last fall are counting on the end of the school year to break the back of the far-flung outbreaks.

In Macon County, GA, the local health department continues to encourage people to wash their hands and to stay away from home or school if they come down with diarrhea.  There were 31 cases of shigella in Macon County in April and 23 so far in May.

Up north in Sedgwick County, KS there have been 52 confirmed cases of Shigella this year, compared to only 20 cases in all of 2008.   Kansas’s health officials are stepping up their warnings to parents.

 In nearby Missouri, nearly a dozen people have come down with Shigella this month, causing the Springfield-Greene County Health Department to issue a warning.

And down in the Texas panhandle, Lubbock is looking for the end of its eight-month Shigella outbreak.  The infection rate for the diarrheal illness peaked last fall with 308 reported cases in November, according to department records. Anything more than eight cases per month is considered an outbreak, Lubbock Public Health Coordinator Beckie Brawley said.

The Shigella bacteria causes diarrhea, fever, vomiting, and cramps. You’ll catch it a day or two after exposure. Symptoms can last as long as a week.

Local health officials say the bacteria is often passed through fecal matter. They urge people to wash their hands frequently. Parents should also make sure their children clean up after using the bathroom.

Transmission of Shigella can also occur from eating contaminated food which may look and smell normal. Food can become contaminated by infected food handlers who practice inadequate hand washing. Vegetables can be contaminated if they are harvested from a field with sewage in it.

You can also get Shigella drinking or swimming in contaminated water. Water may become contaminated if sewage runs into it, or if someone with shigella swims in it.

Other ways to help prevent infection of Shigella includes:

  • Frequently and carefully wash your hands with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Always wash your hands before preparing, serving or eating food.
  • Be sure to wash your hands after using the restroom.
  • Always wash your hands after changing soiled diapers.
  • People who have shigella should not prepare food or pour water for others. If you are a food handler and experience these symptoms, do not go to work.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables before eating.