The Allegheny County Health Department is taking special measures to slow an outbreak of diarrheal illness known as shigellosis. Health Department spokesman Guillermo Cole says shigella infections began to increase countywide last October and there have been 97 cases reported so far this year. That compares to 41 in 2009 and only 12 in 2008. Other parts of the state including neighboring counties are also experiencing shigella outbreaks. Cole says nearly half of the local cases were children 5 or younger.
To curb the outbreak, Cole says the Health Department is requiring children and workers with diarrhea to be barred from day care centers until they have tested negative for shigella bacteria and have no diarrhea for at least 24 hours without using anti-diarrheal medication.
Cole says for children and daycare center workers without health insurance, they can get the test done free of charge through the Health Department.
Shigella bacteria can be easily spread person-to-person or through contaminated food and beverages when people do not carefully wash their hands after using the bathroom, changing a diaper or caring with someone with the illness.
Cole says symptoms including diarrhea, stomach cramps and fever usually last 5-7 days but in some cases people with no symptoms can still pass the bacteria to others.