LAURINBURG — Two cases of a highly contagious intestinal infection have been confirmed in Scotland County, according to the county health department, and five other possible cases are being tested for the bacteria that can cause diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting.
Shigellosis, most common in children aged 2-4 years, can also cause fever and blood, mucous and pus in stools up to 7 days after exposure, according to the department. Adults may not have symptoms but can still spread the infection to others.
Debbie Maske, Communicable Disease nurse with the Scotland County Department of Public Health, said the two confirmed cases had connections to a local daycare facility.
“When we see it in a daycare it means that it’s usually in a community,” Maske said. “We want people to be aware and be vigilant. … Anybody can get Shigellosis — it just takes a little bit of bacteria to get you sick.”
Maske said the infection can spread rapidly through groups, schools, childcare facilities and families, as the bacteria lives on hard surfaces such as toys, counter tops and bathroom fixtures.
“Infants and children in diapers who are putting toys in their mouths are particularly susceptible,” Maske said.
Treatment requires antibiotics and hydration. Maske said proper hand washing and sanitation of surfaces is a must to stop the spread.
“Careful hand washing is a must,” Maske said. “Shigellosis is highly communicable and can be spread though direct contact with fecal matter of persons infected with the disease or indirectly through contaminated food or drinking contaminated water. This most commonly occurs when people fail to properly wash their hands after using the restroom and before eating.”
Diarrhea in infants and young children can be very serious because it can lead to dehydration that can be life threatening, Maske said. Persons with symptoms of Shigella should seek medical attention immediately and should have a stool sample collected for culture if recommended by a medical provider.
People who have shigellosis should not prepare food or pour water for others until they no longer carry the Shigella Bacterium. Anyone with symptoms, especially children in daycare or school, food handlers and health care workers, should not return to work or school until evaluated by a doctor.
The spread of Shigella can be stopped by frequent and careful hand washing with soap and warm water for 20 seconds or longer before preparing food, before eating, after going to the toilet or changing diapers, after smoking, and after using a tissue or handkerchief. Supervised hand washing of all children should be followed in all day care centers and in homes with children who are not completely toilet-trained.
Every year approximately 14,000 cases of shigellosis are reported in the United States. The actual number of cases may be 20 times greater because many milder cases are not diagnosed. Maske said there had been other confirmed cases of the bacteria in North Carolina this year, but not in counties near Scotland.
For questions or information, call the Scotland County Department of Public Health’s Communicable Disease Nurse at 910-277-2440 or your health care provider.