Tue, Jun. 28, 2005
Number of cases in Missouri third-highest in nation after Tennessee, Oklahoma
By ALAN BAVLEY
The Kansas City Star
Please, everybody wash your hands.
Thatís the message local health officials are stressing as the number of shigella infections in the Kansas City area this year rises over 200.
The bacterial illness, which causes vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea, is highly contagious and spreads easily when infected people donít employ good personal hygiene.
ìThis doesnít take many organisms to make you sick,î said Ron Griffin, manager of communicable disease prevention for the Kansas City Health Department. ìIf youíre infected, youíve absolutely got to keep your hands clean and not prepare food for others.î
The regionís shigellosis outbreak began in earnest last month, when 40 cases were reported in Kansas City, up from nine in April. So far in June, there have been 68 more cases.
ìAt this time, I have seen no indication that our caseload is being reduced,î Griffin said.
The upswing in cases of shigellosis began in the central part of Kansas City, but health investigators have not been able to identify a single source of the illnesses. Griffin said many cases have been among children under age 10 and members of their households.
Since January, there have been 132 cases in Kansas City, compared with 11 cases this time last year.
The illness has spread rapidly throughout the region.
Independence and Jackson, Cass, Clay and Ray counties have reported a total of 48 cases.
Kansas City area cases have helped bump the total number of shigellosis cases in Missouri to 312, more than double the five-year average. The statewide incidence now stands at 5.58 cases per 100,000 people, the third-highest in the nation after Tennessee and Oklahoma.
The Kansas side of the metropolitan area also is experiencing more shigella infections. Of the 31 cases in Kansas this year, 23 have occurred in Johnson, Leavenworth and Wyandotte counties. At this time last year, the three counties had reported three cases.
A Kansas Department of Health and Environment spokeswoman said that in the Kansas City area, Wyandotte County has had the most cases.
People can reduce their chances of contracting shigella by washing their hands frequently, promptly disinfecting contaminated surfaces with bleach-based cleaners and washing soiled clothing, Missouri health officials advised.
Persons who have diarrhea should stay out of swimming pools to avoid spreading the bacteria, officials said.
Antibiotics can shorten the time a person remains infectious.
Shigella outbreaks tend to occur in five-year cycles, Griffin said. The last big outbreak was in 2000, when Kansas City reported 197 cases by the end of June.
ìThese outbreaks tend to burn out around August,î he said. ìWe hope it will do the same this year, but the real key is prevention.î