Disease Outbreak
5:04 pm
Thu June 5, 2014

Wash Your Hands, People!

Saint Louis County is seeing an unusual spike in a bacterial disease that affects children in daycare centers.

The county has received 71 reports of shigellosis since the start of 2014 ― that’s compared to only a couple of cases in the same time period last year.

Thorough hand washing with soap and water is the best way to prevent the spread of shigellosis.
Credit U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Dr. Faisal Khan, the St. Louis County Department of Health's director of communicable disease control, said the disease has obvious symptoms.

"People with shigellosis will suffer from abdominal cramps and diarrhea, maybe fever and nausea," Khan said. "But in about five to seven days most people ― including children ― will recover from it spontaneously."

Khan said there is a risk of dehydration, particularly for young children and the elderly.

Shigellosis is highly contagious. Khan said it spreads when someone ― often a child ― accidentally ingests contaminated fecal matter.

"Somebody who hasn’t practiced adequate hand washing then prepares food, or touches the faces of babies, or ingests something that is contaminated," Khan said. "That’s how it begins to be transmitted."

Khan said sick children, daycare workers and food handlers should stay home. He said everyone should be careful to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water.

The St. Louis County Department of Health provided the following recommendations to stop the spread of shigellosis:

  • The most important step to prevent the spread of shigellosis is proper hand washing, particularly after going to the bathroom, after changing diapers, and before and after eating.
  • Parents should make sure children with diarrhea do not attend daycare, see their medical provider, and remain at home until released to return to daycare by the department of health.
  • Daycare operators should exclude ill children and staff from attendance or work.  Every effort should be made to maintain the highest level of sanitation in each center by reinforcing the need for frequent hand washing and for the careful attention to disenfecting toys and surfaces, particularly around diapering areas. 
  • If a person has been ill, he or she should refrain from recreational water venues for one week after all symptoms resolve.
  • Food handlers should be excluded from work during an illness and not return until the department of health approves it.
  • Physicians are urged to be aware that children who attend daycare, their families and daycare employees are at risk of shigellosis at this time.  If a healthcare provider suspects a diagnosis of shigellosis, it should be reported immediately to the Saint Louis County Department of Health by calling 314-615-1630 so that measures to prevent the spread can be rapidly undertaken.

You can find out more about shigellosis here.

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter: @KWMUScience