Abilene Texas has seen a rise in Shigella cases since August, officials with the Abilene-Taylor County Public Health District report. Young children have been affected especially heavily.

Eighty cases have been reported since the first week of August, compared with about six cases per year on average.

A previous major outbreak occurred in 2002, when more than 200 cases were reported. By contrast, no cases were reported during 2010. Actual numbers will be higher, since not everyone experiences symptoms goes to a health care provider.

“Shigellosis is an infection of the intestines that causes diarrhea,” the report reads. “It is usually a mild, self-resolving illness (meaning the body will fight off the infection without treatment), and most people recover completely within 4 to 7 days.

Shigella is highly contagious and often begins with a victim swallowing something contaminated by the feces of an infected person. This usually happens when the infected person fails to properly wash hands after a bowel movement, then touches the hands or food of another person. Even a person without symptoms can pass on the bacteria.

Prevention methods include:

  • Hand-washing after bathroom visits, diaper changes or handling of pets or soil. Hands should be washed for at least 20 seconds using running water and soap. Hand sanitizer may be used as a substitute.
  • Children should wash hands frequently, with young children doing so under adult supervision.
  • Washing hands after diaper changes is especially important if the child has diarrhea.