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Friday, September 25, 2020

Shigella: Meaning, Causes, Risk Factors and Complications

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Shigellosis also known as shigella is an infection that affects the human intestines and it is caused by a bacteria known as shigella. Shigella is actually a family of bacteria but then any member of the family can cause the infection.

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The first sign of shigella which is mostly the important indicator for the shigella bacteria is blood in a watery stool. This means that the patient will be having diarrhoea but then will see traces of blood in the stool.

Shigella can be contacted when a person gets in contact with a bacteria infected stool. It can also be transferred by the ingestion of contaminated water or swimming in a pool that has been infected with the bacteria. There are four main risk factors which are associated with this disease and they are:


Although age is not entirely a predisposing factor for this disease, but then most children under 5 years are at the risk of contracting this disease.

This is because in a day care centre, they are mostly exposed to almost all kinds of communicable diseases, a child can come in contact with an infected stool and mistakenly ingest it. Hence, the child becomes contaminated and infected.

Life activities and living arrangements

When a person has a direct close contact with a person who has shigella, the person may likely contract this disease.

When there is an outbreak of the shigella bacteria, people in day care centres, old people’s homes, nursing homes, jails, hostels, as well as the military barracks are all having a higher risk percentage due to how congested these areas are and how easy this infection can be contracted.

Severe exposure to infected places and places that lack sanitation

Unprotected exposure to a place that is infected with shigella or places that are in dire need of sanitation can lead to a person contracting the shigella disease.

Research has shown that most people in developing countries are more susceptible to contracting this disease and they are more at risk if they have only one water source which may be infected.


Men who usually have unprotected sex with their fellow men tend to also be at a higher risk. This is because the direct contact with the oral-anal route of the body. Asides, people who practice oral anal sex usually also have an increased risk because of their oral exposure to the anal region.

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Causes of shigella are very numerous but for the sake of this article, we would narrow them down. They include:

  • Direct oral contact immediately after having contact with a child’s stool. Once a child is infected and then you get a direct contact to the infected stool and mistakenly put the finger or that hand in the mouth, this can lead to shigella infection.
  • Ingestion of a contaminated food: Coming in contact with an infected food and ingesting it is a direct way to contact shigella.

Generally, if a child has a mild case of shigella, it will quietly resolve itself within a few weeks but if it is a full-blown case of shigella, then the patient needs to see the doctor immediately. There are certain signs and symptoms that are intricately associated with this disease and they include:


A person who has shigella will definitely have watery stool. The diarrhoea may however contain either blood or mucus although most times, a definite indication of shigella infection is blood in the stool.

Severe high fever

A person who has shigella will have a severe presentation of fever with a temperature of almost 110-140F (38°C-40°C).

Severe abdominal pains and cramps

Due to the presence of an infection and the body’s response to combating the infection, the patient might likely be experiencing a severe case of abdominal cramps.

Note: The signs and the symptoms of shigella infection usually starts within a day or two of the persons initial exposure to the disease. However, for the sickness to fully develop into a full-blown case of shigella, it may take up to a week or sometimes more than a week.

Even though the person has not started experiencing full blown symptoms of shigella, the person is already infected already and may most likely infect others as well. Normally, shigella disease will clear up without having any complications or side effects.

However, there are some rare cases in which shigella had actually brought complications. These complications may include:


Due to the amount of water lost from the body due to persistent recurrent dehydration, the person may begin to experience signs of dehydration. The signs may range from being mild to severe, but this depends in the amount of water lost from the body.

The signs of dehydration include fainting, lack of tears or dry tears, dizziness, inadequate production of urine leading to dry diapers in infants, and also sunken eyes.

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If dehydration is not immediately treated with the administration of fluids that can help increase the person’s blood volume, the patient could pass out due to shock and eventually death might occur.


When the temperature becomes very high in some children, they might begin to have both seizures. It is however unknown if it is as a result of this infection or due to the severely high temperature that causes the convulsions of the child.

Immediately you notice that your child is beginning to have convulsions, please visit the next hospital for treatment.

Rectal prolapse

This may occur as a result of the mucous membrane and inner lining of the intestines moving out of the anus as a result of the series of the amount of straining effort the patient offers during bowel movement.

Toxic megacolon

This is a very rare form of complications developed as a result of shigella infection. This occurs when a person’s colon is no longer functional and is paralyzed.

When this occurs, you will find it difficult to experience bowel movements and likewise you will be unable to pass out gas. There are different symptoms which can be used to detect if a patient has toxic megacolon. They include:

  • Abdominal pains and severe edema (swelling).
  • Severe fever and
  • general body weakness.

Once a person doesn’t treat the disease, there is a tendency that there can be a burst which cause peritonitis (infection of the peritoneum).

Reactive arthritis

Reactive arthritis may develop as an aftermath of an infection. Generally, a person experiencing reactive arthritis will experience severe pains in the joints and swelling around them.

The joints that are mostly affected are those found in the knees, the ankle, the feet and maybe the hips. The patient will also experience redness, severe itching, conjunctivitis and severe pains while urinating.

Shigella can be prevented through the following ways:

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  1. Always remember to wash your hands as often as possible and likewise when washing, Endeavour to wash them thoroughly.
  2. Help the little kids to wash their hands and teach then also how to properly wash their hands.
  3. Ensure that you properly dispose any soiled or used diaper.
  4. Always disinfect every diaper changing area very well immediately after use.
  5. Once you have diarrhoea, don’t prepare food for others. Ensure you excuse yourself from kitchen duties till you recover.
  6. Excuse all sick children from the school or day care especially those who have diarrhoea so that they can have proper treatment.
  7. Make sure you don’t drink water from unclean sources such as untreated ponds and lakes.
  8. Avoid having any sexual relation with anyone who has had diarrhoea or is currently having diarrhoea.

If you know you have been exposed to different sources of shigella infection or you are part of the risk factors, then please ensure you visit a doctor immediately.

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Disclaimer: This article is purely informative & educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.

Deborah Akinola
Wirter, poet and public speaker
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