May 31, 2006
Proper and diligent hand-washing is needed in order to curb an outbreak of bacteria-caused diarrhea that has been spreading in Tuscaloosa County, health officials said Tuesday.
A total of 55 cases of shigellosis have been reported in Alabama since March with 43 of those cases occurring in Tuscaloosa County. Shigellosis generally manifests as diarrhea and a fever and lasts between four days and a week.
“This is quite a large number (of cases) we’ve seen in a short period of time,”
Angie Dubose, a nurse supervisor at the Tuscaloosa County Health Department told The Tuscaloosa News for a story Wednesday. “We didn’t want to alarm people with this. It’s just that we’ve seen the growth in the number of cases we’ve seen recently, and the best way to prevent it is by adhering to strict hand-washing practices.”
The Alabama Department of Public Health issued a warning Tuesday in an attempt to stop the spread of shigellosis by urging people to be diligent about washing their hands.
The majority of the cases reported in Tuscaloosa County have been discovered in children less than 5 years old, but the ages of those affected range from 1 to 74 years. The outbreak has not been linked to area preschool or daycare facilities, said Dr. J.P. Lofgren, state medical epidemiologist.
Lofgren said that it is not unusual to see a higher presence of the disease among young children.
“This one particular bacterium is very infectious. It’s extremely easy to contract,” Lofgren said. “We look for a common source, but generally it spreads from person to person and good hand washing will cut down on the risk.”
Shigellosis is spread when infectious fecal material contaminates food, water, or otherwise gets into the mouth of another person, Lofgren said. The microscopic bacterium is so infectious that one contaminated stool contains enough bacteria to infect the entire population of Alabama, he said. It is one of about 50 diseases that must be reported to the state.
Last year, 221 cases of shigellosis were reported in Alabama. Tuscaloosa reported 13 cases in 2005 and four of the 318 statewide cases in 2004.
Nationally the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention records about 18,000 cases annually.
Lofgren said many cases go unreported because people don’t always visit a doctor for diarrhea and cultures aren’t always done to determine the cause of the symptoms.
He said the infection can occasionally lead to hospitalization due to dehydration.