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Shigella in food


What is Shigella?

Shigella is a bacterium that can be found in the gut of humans and other primates.

What illness does it cause?

Shigellosis (a type of gastroenteritis). This illness is a nationally notifiable disease and must be reported to health authorities.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms usually start 12 hours to 4 days after a person becomes infected (e.g. after eating contaminated food).

Common symptoms are sudden abd​ominal cramping, fever, diarrhoea that may contain blood or mucous, nausea and vomiting. Sometimes the illness can cause longer-term problems such as arthritis as well as complications including seizures caused by fever.

Most people are sick for 4 to 7 days, but sometimes for longer.

Who can get sick?

Anyone can get shigellosis but it is more likely that very young children and the elderly could get seriously ill.

People who have difficulty with personal cleanliness (children, people with intellectual disabilities) may be more likely to get shigellosis.

Where does it come from?

Shigella can get into food from the faeces (poo) of an infected person, for example from poor hand washing or contact with sewerage.

Common foods that can be contaminated with Shigella include foods that are handled a lot during preparation (e.g. salads and sandwiches) and raw vegetables that have been contaminated in the field.

How can people get sick?

  • By an infected person transferring bacteria to another person, usually by hands that have not been properly washed
  • By eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water

How can illness be prevented?

  • Keep equipment clean, particularly in higher risk environments like childcare centres, aged care facilities, institutions and food premises
  • Wash hands thoroughly before preparing and eating food, especially after going to the toilet or changing nappies
  • When travelling to places with poor sanitation, drink bottled water and avoid food that might have been prepared with contaminated water


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