Parents are being warned of a contagious winter vomiting and diarrhoea bug that is sweeping many parts of the UK.
Although there have yet to be cases of the infection in Cheshire, there have been reports of outbreaks in nearby counties.
Parents are being warned to be vigilant, and to be sure to contact the family GP should a child develop Shigellosis symptoms.
So what is Shigellosis?
Shigellosis - also known as Shigella or bacillary dysentery - is highly infectious and is usually passed from person to person. It is caused by Shigella bacteria - which is closely related to Salmonella. Anyone can catch it - but it is more common amongst children, particularly those in school or childcare settings.
What are the symptoms?
The bug has some unpleasant effects, which are mainly;
- Chronic diarrhoea (dysentery)
- High temperature (fever) - 38C and over, or 37.5C and above in children under five.
- Nausea and sickness
- Painful stomach cramps
The symptoms usually last around five to seven days.
The diarrhoea can also cause dehydration too.
How is it spread?
According to the NHS, the bacteria can be spread if someone carrying the infection doesn’t wash their hands properly after going to the toilet. It can be passed through direct contact, or from surfaces or food that the infected person has touched.
The infection usually spreads quickly amongst groups of people who are often in close contact with one another, such as families, schools and nurseries.
What is the treatment?
Fortunately, although the symptoms are nasty, Shigella is rarely serious. There is no magic cure, so those unlucky enough to pick up the bug will have to let it run its course. But there are things that you can do to ease the effects.
Treatment is usually plenty of fluids to ensure that dehydration doesn’t occur. It is also recommended to use oral re-hydration solutions if necessary.
However, it is best to steer clear of anti-diarrhoea medications (such as Loperamide) as they can make symptoms much worse.
Over the counter painkillers can help relieve pain and reduce temperature.
Anyone with the infection should stay at home until at least 48 hours after the last episode of diarrhoea to minimize the risk to spreading the bacteria.
In cases where there is blood in the diarrhoea, antibiotics may be needed.
If a child contracts Shigellosis, it is important that the family GP is contacted, and any children that have caught the bug should stay at home for at least five days until tests confirm that they are clear of the infection.
Dr David Kirrage, consultant with PHE West Midlands Health Protection Team, said: “People who have had diarrhoea should stay away from work or school until they have been free of symptoms for 48 hours and certainly if Shigella is suspected, should not return to school or work until stool samples have been tested and results show samples are free from the infection.”
How can you stop it from spreading?
Good hygiene is key to preventing the spread of Shigellosis.
- You should wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after using the toilet and at regular intervals throughout the day.
- Help children to wash their hands properly.
- If you need to clean a child’s potty, wear gloves when handling it and dispose of the contents in the toilet. Be sure to wash the potty with hot water after each use.
- Clean and disinfect all toilets you use on a regular basis.
- Don’t forget to clean flush handles, taps and sinks with soap and hot water after use, followed by a household disinfectant.
- Always wash your hands before handling, eating or cooking food. Do not prepare or serve food for others if you are infected.
- Avoid sharing towels and washcloths.
- Be sure to wash the laundry of an infected person on the hottest possible setting.
- Stay away from work or school until you have been symptom-free for at least 48 hours.
- Do not go swimming until you have been free of symptoms for two days.
- Avoid sexual contact until symptom free for 48 hours.
How widespread is the outbreak and what is being done to tackle it?
Earlier this month 90 people – mainly school pupils and their family members – in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, were displaying symptoms. Some schools have been forced to send their pupils home.
Public Health England (PHE) say they are now working with the schools to limit the spread of the illness.
Measures include ‘enhanced cleaning’ of the affected sites.
Letters have also been sent to parents and supervised hand-washing has been introduced.