Infectious Disease Expert: What To Know About Drug-Resistant Stomach Bug, Shigella

With all the different viruses and bugs going around, it can be hard to keep up with them all and know what to be worried about. Luckily, Health Digest spoke with Dr. Linda Yancey, infectious disease specialist at Memorial Hermann Health System in Houston to learn more about the shigellosis stomach bug caused by the Shigella bacteria.

Dr. Yancey said that the symptoms of the Shigella bacteria can differ from the standard stomach bug that many Americans get each year. While normal stomach illnesses can cause diarrhea, Shigella can cause diarrhea that's bloody. Other symptoms include stomach pain, fever, and feeling the urge to have a bowel movement even when the bowels are empty.

According to Dr. Yancey, Shigella is a common infection, with more than 100 million cases worldwide each year. Nearly 500,000 of these cases are in the U.S., with some requiring hospitalization. Unfortunately, approximately 100 people die from a Shigella infection each year.

Overuse of antibiotics has led to resistant bacteria

Aside from being aware of the symptoms, Dr. Yancey pointed out that the public should be concerned about the rise of antibiotic resistance, as antibiotics are used to treat most Shigella cases. "This means that there is a growing chance that the antibiotics we normally use to treat Shigella might not work anymore," she said. But Dr. Yancey offered reassurance, stating that there are still other antibiotics that can be used. "However, the rise of drug resistant bacteria of all kinds is a growing public health threat," she explained. "Because of overuse of antibiotics for many years, we have driven the emergence of bacteria that are harder and harder to treat."

Dr. Yancey shared that over time, antibiotics have been prescribed to patients who don't actually need them, like in cases where a virus is the cause of an illness. As bacteria become more and more resistant to typical antibiotics, doctors are looking for ways to effectively treat infections. "The growing threat of drug resistant bacteria drives doctors to prescribe broader and broader spectrum antibiotics that are more difficult to administer and that have more side effects," Dr. Yancey said.

How to prevent the spread of Shigella

There are also ways of preventing infection and keeping it from spreading, according to Dr. Yancey. "As with all food borne illness, the best way to prevent the spread is to make sure that food is being served at a high enough temperature to kill pathogens," she shared. She recommended that all hot restaurant foods, especially in buffets, should always be served at a temperature of at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

Illnesses that spread through waste and food, also known as enteric pathogens, can be prevented through good hand hygiene, Dr. Yancey told Health Digest. "Handwashing remains a mainstay of defense against many diseases."

As far as treatment is concerned, Dr. Yancey shared that patients are often put on intravenous (IV) fluids to restore hydration and may also be given antibiotics. "Doctors are aware of the resistant patterns and if they suspect someone has a drug resistant strain, they will start broad spectrum antibiotics," she told us. Your healthcare provider may take cultures to determine what kind of bacteria you're infected with, which can then narrow down which antibiotics might work best for you.