SF health officials warn of spike in shigella cases

San Francisco this month has seen a spike in cases of shigella, an intestinal bacterial disease, including among The City’s homeless population, health department officials said.

There are typically five to 10 shigella cases reported in San Francisco each month. As of Tuesday, The City had seen 65 confirmed cases in December alone, according to the health department.

Shigella is a bacteria that usually causes diarrhea that lasts a few days. In rare cases, it can cause more serious illness. Most cases are mild, and most people recover on their own without seeking medical care, but it is highly contagious and can spread quickly through contact with contaminated surfaces, food handling and improper sanitation.

San Franciscans can help prevent the spread of shigella by washing their hands, especially before preparing or serving food, before eating and after using the bathroom, health officials said.

About 40 percent of the cases this month are in people who are known to be homeless.

“We are particularly concerned about our homeless residents, who are more vulnerable to disease than people with stable housing,” Dr. Tomas Aragon, San Francisco’s health officer, said in a statement.

The City’s Homeless Outreach Team is working aggressively to contact the homeless population on the streets. Staffers are interviewing homeless people for symptoms of shigella, handing out fliers alerting them to the outbreak, giving instructions on sanitation and hand hygiene and passing out antiseptic towelettes.

”We know where people are – on the streets, in encampments, in parks,” Dr. Barry Zevin, the Homeless Outreach Team’s medical director, said in a statement. “We are able to reach them very quickly with expert medical advice, to assess them and provide information about how to prevent and stop the spread of disease.”

The health department also is working with The City’s shelters and soup kitchens to ensure proper sanitation, hand washing facilities and information is made available to clients.

Young children, the elderly and HIV-positive people are more likely to have severe symptoms including dehydration, bacteria in the blood and seizures, health officials said. Shigella is most often treated with antibiotics and staying hydrated.

The health department issued a health alert on Dec. 22 to health care providers outlining the situation and providing testing and treatment information.

For more information about the shigella outbreak, visit: www.sfcdcp.org/shigella.html or http://www.cdc.gov/shigella/ .

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