Amid the worst water crisis in US History, Flint MI battling another serious epidemic: shigellosis.
A water crisis has plagued residents there for more than two years. Last year, people experienced rashes and hair loss when high levels of lead were found in the local water supply. In 2014, the area faced one of the worst outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease in US history.
Shigellosis is an infectious disease caused by a group of bacteria called Shigella (shih-GEHL-uh) which typically spreads when people don’t wash their hands.
Most who are infected with Shigella develop diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps starting a day or two after they are exposed to the bacteria. Diarrhea caused by Shigella usually resolves without antibiotic treatment in 5 to 7 days.
What Causes Shigellosis?
Shigellosis is a diarrheal disease caused by a group of bacteria called Shigella. Shigella causes about 500,000 cases of diarrhea in the United States annually 1. There are four different species of Shigella:
Infection occurs when you accidentally swallow shigella bacteria. This can happen when you:
- Touch your mouth. If you don’t wash your hands well after changing the diaper of a child who has shigella infection, you may become infected yourself. Direct person-to-person contact is the most common way the disease is spread.
- Eat contaminated food. Infected people who handle food can transmit the bacteria to people who eat the food. Food can also become contaminated if it grows in a field that contains sewage.
- Swallow contaminated water. Water may become contaminated either from sewage or from a person with shigella infection swimming in it.
How Does It Spread to Others?
People with shigellosis shed the bacteria in their feces. The bacteria can spread from an infected person to contaminate water or food, or directly to another person.
How is Shigella Treated? Medications or Antibiotics?
Shigella usually resolves without antibiotic treatment in 5 to 7 days. People with mild shigellosis may need only fluids and rest. Bismuth subsalicylate (e.g., Pepto-Bismol) may be helpful, but medications that cause the gut to slow down, such as loperamide (e.g., Imodium) or diphenoxylate with atropine (e.g., Lomotil), should be avoided. Antibiotics are useful for severe cases of shigellosis because they can reduce the duration of symptoms. However, Shigella is often resistant to antibiotics – As ciprofloxacin or azithromycin — being the two antibiotics most commonly used to treat shigellosis.
Hot water kills germs. Basically soap and water destroys the germs and bacteria. However, in Flint people are scared to even touch the water and are opting out of bathing by using baby wipes, which they can get for free at bottled water distribution centers. All non-factors in destroying the bacteria.
But baby wipes are not effective, they’re not chlorinated, it doesn’t kill the bacteria and it doesn’t replace hand-washing. “People have changed their behavior regarding personal hygiene. They’re scared. People are not running hot water through the filters,” out of fear it will decrease the life of the filter, and that’s contributing to the spread of disease.” said Jim Henry, Genesee County’s environmental health supervisor.
Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech researcher who helped expose the Flint water crisis, told CNN that people can switch off their filters when running hot water.