Burlington, Vermont – August 1, 2005
“We don’t see Shigella that much,” said Microbiologist Christine LaBarre at the Vermont Health Department lab.
Microbiologists test for Shigella bacteria in stool samples. They look for the organism, which can lead to serious stomach issues, including bloody diarrhea.
Usually four or five samples test positive for Shigella each year. Nine samples have tested positive already this year. The bacteria leads to an infectious disease called Shigellosis.
“We sent out an alert to health care providers around the state to encourage them to test persons with diarrheal illnesses and report those results to us,” said Dr. Cort Lohff, the state epidemiologist.
Cases have been reported in Addison, Caledonia, Orange, and Windsor counties. The most recent were detected in Washington and Chittenden. Specific towns are not released so not to identify victims.
An investigation continues at the Health Department to determine if there’s a link between the cases. Shigellosis is spread from one infected person to the next very easily, even after the symptoms have disappeared. It takes a minute amount of bacteria to make someone sick. It can also be transmitted by consuming contaminated food or water.
“Right now we don’t know the cause,” said LaBarre.
The Health Department remains concerned that the illness could be spread by a food handler in a restaurant, in a daycare, or by a health care provider — the three leading causes for infection.
“Those situations really open this up for large numbers of people to get infected,” said Dr. Lohff. “Hand hygiene is the biggest way to prevent the spread.”
Diarrhea is the body’s way of ridding itself of the bacteria. If bloody diarrhea persists, antibiotics can treat the illness. But patients should not treat themselves with over the counter medications, like Imodium.
“That’s going to prevent a person from having diarrhea and diarrhea is a good thing in a way. It flushes the system out and gets rid of the bacteria,” said Dr. Lohff.
In most cases people will recover completely, although it may be several months before their bowel habits return to normal.
If the health department determines the source, that person will be forced to stop working until two stool samples come back negative for Shigella. Prevention is the best medicine. There is no vaccination. So, the best way to prevent the illness is through frequent and careful hand-washing with soap.
Darren Perron – Channel 3 News