Travelers Bringing Home Troubling Stomach Bug

Shigellosis outbreaks of intestinal illness from bacteria Shigella may be coming to US via travelers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Most people appreciate a souvenir from a faraway place, but some travelers are coming home with more than they bargained for.

According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an intestinal bug called Shigella is coming to the US and spreading via travelers, leading to several outbreaks.

“These outbreaks show a troubling trend in Shigella infections in the United States,” said CDC Director Tom R. Frieden, MD, in a press release.

These bacteria often cause symptoms like diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps that last for five to seven days. The illness, called shigellosis, is highly contagious. It is spread through contact with fecal mater.

Contact with fecal matter can occur through not properly washing hands or through contaminated water. Even people who are infected but have no symptoms can spread the illness.

Outbreaks of shigellosis have occurred in 32 states between May 2014 and February 2015, involving 243 patients, the CDC reports. To make matters worse, most of these cases were resistant to ciprofloxacin (brand name Cipro), a common antibiotic used to treat the illness.

In past years, only around 2 percent of shigellosis cases in the US were resistant to this medication. In the recent outbreaks, 90 percent of the samples tested were resistant.

“Drug-resistant infections are harder to treat and because Shigella spreads so easily between people, the potential for more — and larger — outbreaks is a real concern," Dr. Frieden said. "We’re moving quickly to implement a national strategy to curb antibiotic resistance because we can’t take for granted that we’ll always have the drugs we need to fight common infections.”

Many of the recent outbreaks involved travelers who became infected with Shigella in other countries like the Dominican Republic and India, the CDC reports. These patients then spread the illness to others while in the US.

The CDC suggested several steps to prevent the spread of Shigella. These include washing hands thoroughly and not making food for others while ill.

For those traveling abroad, opt for food that is steaming hot and choose drinks that come in sealed containers, the CDC suggested. These steps can help reduce the risk of catching Shigella.

Review Date: 
April 3, 2015
Last Updated:
April 8, 2015