Shigellosis - A Foodborne Illness Caused by Shigella 'Superbugs' Bacteria

Shigellosis - A Foodborne Illness Caused by Shigella 'Superbugs' Bacteria

Shigellosis - A Foodborne Illness Caused by Shigella 'Superbugs' Bacteria

Shigellosis is a foodborne illness caused by Shigella bacteria, which are sometimes referred to as 'superbugs' due to their increasing resistance to antibiotics. This gastrointestinal infection can lead to severe symptoms and complications, especially in vulnerable populations. In this article, we will discuss the stomach infections caused by Shigella bacteria, the symptoms of shigellosis, and the foods that can lead to this illness.

Know About Stomach Infections Caused by Shigella Bacteria

Shigella bacteria are a group of gram-negative bacteria responsible for causing shigellosis, an infectious disease that affects the gastrointestinal tract. There are four species of Shigella: S. dysenteriae, S. flexneri, S. boydii, and S. sonnei. These bacteria primarily invade the cells lining the colon, causing inflammation, ulcers, and damage to the intestinal wall.

Shigella is highly contagious and can be transmitted through the fecal-oral route, which means the bacteria can spread from an infected person to another individual through contaminated food, water, or surfaces. As few as 10-100 bacteria can cause illness, making shigellosis a significant public health concern.


The symptoms of shigellosis typically appear within 1-3 days after exposure to the bacteria and may include:

  1. Diarrhea (often bloody)
  2. Abdominal pain and cramping
  3. Fever
  4. Nausea and vomiting
  5. Loss of appetite
  6. Weakness and fatigue

Symptoms can range from mild to severe and usually last for 5-7 days. However, some individuals may experience complications, such as dehydration, toxic megacolon, or even septicemia (blood poisoning) in severe cases. Young children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems are at a higher risk of developing complications.

Foods That Cause This Illness

Shigellosis can be caused by consuming food contaminated with Shigella bacteria. Foods most commonly associated with shigellosis include:

  1. Raw or undercooked meat and poultry: Shigella bacteria can contaminate meat and poultry during processing. Consuming undercooked or raw meat increases the risk of infection.
  2. Contaminated produce: Fresh fruits and vegetables can become contaminated with Shigella through contact with fecal matter in soil, water, or on surfaces during handling and processing. Unwashed or improperly washed produce is more likely to carry the bacteria.
  3. Prepared foods: Foods prepared by infected individuals who do not practice proper handwashing and hygiene can become contaminated with Shigella. This includes ready-to-eat foods, such as salads, sandwiches, and dips.
  4. Contaminated water: Drinking untreated water or using it to wash produce, prepare food, or make ice can lead to shigellosis if the water source is contaminated with the bacteria.

Preventing Shigellosis

To prevent shigellosis, follow these food safety and hygiene practices:

  1. Wash your hands: Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before handling food, after using the restroom, and after changing diapers.
  2. Cook meat and poultry thoroughly: Ensure that meat and poultry are cooked to safe internal temperatures to kill Shigella bacteria (165°F or 74°C for poultry; 160°F or 71°C for ground meats).
  3. Wash fruits and vegetables: Rinse fresh produce under running water and use a produce brush to scrub firm fruits and vegetables.
  4. Practice safe food handling: Separate raw meats from ready-to-eat foods to prevent cross-contamination. Use separate cutting boards and utensils for raw and cooked foods. Store food at appropriate temperatures and refrigerate leftovers promptly.
  5. Drink safe water: Use treated water for drinking, cooking, and washing produce. Boil water or use water purification methods if you are unsure of the water's safety.

Treatment of Shigellosis

If you suspect you have shigellosis, it's essential to seek medical attention. A healthcare provider can confirm the diagnosis through laboratory tests and recommend appropriate treatment. While mild cases of shigellosis may resolve without treatment, antibiotics are often prescribed for severe cases, especially when the infection is caused by antibiotic-resistant strains.

It's important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids, as diarrhea can lead to dehydration. Over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medications are not recommended for shigellosis, as they may prolong the infection or worsen the symptoms. Always consult a healthcare professional before taking any medication for shigellosis.


Shigellosis is a foodborne illness caused by Shigella 'superbugs' bacteria, which can lead to severe gastrointestinal symptoms and complications. Understanding the sources of contamination and practicing proper food safety and hygiene measures can help prevent this illness. If you suspect you have shigellosis, seek medical advice promptly to ensure appropriate diagnosis and treatment. By staying informed and taking necessary precautions, you can protect yourself and others from this potentially dangerous infection.