Shigella Infection, Adult

ExitCare ImageShigella infection occurs when certain bacteria infect the intestines. Symptoms usually start between 2 days and 4 days after ingestion of the bacteria, but they may begin as late as 1 week after ingestion. The illness usually lasts from 5 days to 7 days. Shigella infection can spread from person to person (contagious). Most people recover completely. In rare cases, lasting problems may develop, such as arthritis, kidney problems, or abnormal blood counts.


The bacteria that cause shigella infection are found in the stool of infected people. You can become infected by:

  • Eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with the bacteria.

  • Touching surfaces or objects contaminated with the bacteria, and then placing your hand in your mouth.

  • Having direct contact with a person who is infected. This may occur while caring for someone with illness or while sharing foods or eating utensils with someone who is ill.

  • Swimming in contaminated water.


  • Diarrhea, commonly with blood, mucus, or pus.

  • Abdominal pain or cramps.

  • Fever.

  • Nausea.

  • Vomiting.

  • Loss of appetite.

  • Rectal spasms (tenesumus).

  • Rectum protruding out of the body (rectal prolapse).


Your caregiver will take your history and perform a physical exam. A stool sample may also be taken and tested for the presence of shigella bacteria.


Often, no treatment is needed. However, you will need to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Preventing and treating dehydration is important because severe dehydration can cause serious problems. In severe cases, antibiotic medicines may be given to help shorten the illness and to prevent others from being infected. Antidiarrheal medicines are not recommended. They can make your condition worse.


  • Wash your hands well to avoid spreading the bacteria.

  • Do not prepare food if you have diarrhea.

  • If you are given antibiotics, take them as directed. Finish them even if you start to feel better.

  • Only take over-the-counter or prescription medicines for pain, discomfort, or fever as directed by your caregiver.

  • Drink enough fluids to keep your urine clear or pale yellow. Until your diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting is under control, you should only drink clear liquids. Clear liquids are anything you can see through, such as water, broth, or non-caffeinated tea. Avoid:

  • Milk.

  • Fruit juice.

  • Alcohol.

  • Extremely hot or cold fluids.

  • If you do not have an appetite, do not force yourself to eat. However, you must continue to drink fluids.

  • If you have an appetite, eat a normal diet unless your caregiver tells you differently.

  • Eat a variety of complex carbohydrates (rice, wheat, potatoes, bread), lean meats, yogurt, fruits, and vegetables.

  • Avoid high-fat foods because they are more difficult to digest.

  • If you are dehydrated, ask your caregiver for specific rehydration instructions. Signs of dehydration may include:

  • Severe thirst.

  • Dry lips and mouth.

  • Dizziness.

  • Dark urine.

  • Decreasing urine frequency and amount.

  • Confusion.

  • Rapid breathing or pulse.

  • Keep all follow-up appointments as directed by your caregiver.


  • You are unable to keep fluids down.

  • You have persistent vomiting or diarrhea.

  • You have abdominal pain that increases or is concentrated in one small area (localized).

  • Your diarrhea contains increased blood or mucus.

  • You feel very weak, dizzy, thirsty, or you faint.

  • You lose a significant amount of weight. Your caregiver can tell you how much weight loss should concern you.

  • You have a fever.

  • You feel confused.


  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your condition.

  • Will get help right away if you are not doing well or get worse.