Shigellosis vomiting bug: what you need to know

Public Health England has reported an outbreak of shigellosis among preschoolers in the south of England. But what is it, how long does it last, and will it spread to children in other areas of the UK?

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We’ve seen plenty of headlines recently – many of them quite worrying – about an outbreak of the bug shigellosis, a type of dysentry that causes vomiting and diarrhoea.

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Public Health England (PHE) has confirmed that 18 cases were found in preschool-age children living in Guildford and Woking, in Surrey.

Though the ‘outbreak’ is currently confined to these few cases, we can understand why people might be a bit panicked that it’ll start to spread further.

Fortunately, the head of PHE for the South East of England, Mike Burrell, told us: “Despite wider media coverage, there is no immediate concern in other areas.”

Still, it’s good to know: what are symptoms of shigellosis, how can you prevent it your child getting it – and what do you do if you think your child has got it? Here’s what you need to know…

What is shigellosis?

Shigellosis is an easily-spread infection caused by a group of bacteria called shigella. It’s also known as ‘bacillary dystentery’. In a nutshell: it’s a D&V-type illness that’s just as gross as it sounds.

It typically spreads from person to person via traces of poo (usually on the hands of infected people), so it can spread quickly in areas where lots of people are in close contact, particularly when there’s been a lack of hand-washing after going to the bathroom.

That probablyexplains why it’s said to be more common among very young children in nurseries and preschools here in the UK…

What are the symptoms of shigellosis?

The symptoms of shigellosis are pretty similar to those of your average vomiting bug, and can include:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea 
  • Diarrhoea 
  • Stomach cramps 
  • A fever of 38°C or above

There’s a week or so of unpleasantness ahead if you’ve caught shigellosis but, according to the NHS, it’s typically not considered a serious illness.

How is shigellosis treated?

There’s not a great deal you can do to ‘cure’ shigellosis – you’ve just got to wait til it’s passed.

That’ll take about 5 to 7 days, and you need to make sure your child’s kept hydrated (lots of water and/or rehydration salts, such as Dioralyte) during this time. If your child has a fever, you can treat that with age-appropriate doses of paracetamol.

You should keep your school for around 5 days and it’s especially important to keep your child away from classmates for 48 hours after they’ve vommed or… you know…

The NHS also advises that you:

  • Wash all your child’s dirty clothes, bedding and towels on the hottest possible cycle of the washing machine
  • Clean toilet seats and toilet bowls, and flush handles, taps and sinks with detergent and hot water after use, followed by a household disinfectant.

You don’t usually need to see your GP but, if things don’t start to improve after a few days, or your little one’s symptoms are especially extreme, seek medical attention.

And prepare yourself to give proof to your child’s nursery/school that they’re ready to go back to class. From the NHS:

“As shigella is easily passed on to others, you may need to submit stool (poo) samples to be given the all clear to return to work, school, nursery or a childminder.”

How to prevent shigella spreading

The answer is often as simple as this: practise good hand hygiene. Make sure your little ones are keeping their hands clean!

PHE’s Mike Burrell also recommended “ensuring people use hot water and soap rather than hand gels – there is a useful NHS video on this.”

Share your story

Has your child been affected by a recent outbreak of shigellosis? Please do let us know on Facebook or in the comments below.

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