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Severe, often bloody diarrheoa, vomitting, fever; life-threatening if untreated.
Persons most commonly affected: All age groups and both sexes.
Organ or part of body involved: Gastrointestinal Tract
Symptoms and indications: The main symptom of epidemic dysentery is bloody diarrhoea. Other common symptoms include abdominal cramps, fever and rectal pain. Less frequent complications can include a form of blood poisoning known as sepsis, seizure and kidney failure. Approximately 5-15% of epidemic dysentery cases are fatal. It tends to be more common in infants, and elderly and malnourished people. Mortality is also highest in these groups.
Causes and risk factors: bacteria which usually enter the body through the mouth in contaminated food or water, or by physical contact with a person who has already been infected. The bacterium Shigella dysenteriae type 1 (Sd1) causes a particularly severe form of the disease known as epidemic dysentery. Three other types of of bacteria from the Shigella family - Shigella flexneri, Shigella sonnei and Shigella boydii - can also cause dysentery, but usually these forms are less dangerous, and do not cause large epidemics. The disease may also be caused by other types of bacteria, including Campylobacter jejuni, Escherichia coli, and some strains of Salmonella.
Prevention: Dysentery is spread because of poor hygiene measures. To minimise the risk of catching the disease you should: wash hands after using the toilet and regularly throughout the day, particularly after coming in contact with an infected person, keep contact with an infected person to a minimum, avoid sharing towels and facecloths, wash the laundry of an infected person on the hottest setting possible, and wash your hands before handling, eating or cooking food, handling babies and feeding the young or the elderly. Avoid drinking tap water in countries with poor sanitation systems or that are known to carry waterborne infections. Avoid ice cubes, and salad and vegetables that have been washed in local tap water as well.
A child with dysentery shouldn’t return to school until 48 hours after symptoms have stopped. An adult with dysentery should avoid work and get advice from their organisation before returning to work if they are employed in a food or healthcare environment.