County issues advisory about unpleasant intestinal disease

SAN DIEGO — San Diego County health officials Monday advised gay and bisexual men, homeless individuals and people with compromised immune systems that they could be at an increased risk for shigellosis, an intestinal disease.

Young children and travelers to developing countries are also at risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Shigellosis can cause five to seven days of diarrhea, fever and abdominal pain, and, in rare cases, can result in death. Considered very contagious, infection can occur through person-to-person contact, eating food contaminated by someone who has shigellosis or drinking from from pools, ponds or other water sources contaminated with the bacteria.

Last year, the county saw the highest number of shigellosis cases in 20 years, including a disproportional increase in the gay and bisexual community and among the homeless population, health officials said. A total of 334 cases were reported, a 37 percent increase over 2016’s total of 232 cases.

With numbers usually increasing late summer and fall, there have already been 98 cases reported this year.

A larger than usual proportion of 2017 cases, 63 percent, were among men, many who self-identified as gay or bisexual, according to the county.

The percent of cases among the homeless also increased from 7 percent to 12 percent between 2016 and 2017.

County officials recommend several practices to prevent spread of the disease:

  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water, especially before changing diapers or preparing food for others;
  • Avoid swallowing water from ponds, lakes or untreated pools;
  • Seek care for diarrhea, especially with fever or bloody diarrhea;
  • Discuss with a doctor antibiotics to shorten the duration of shigellosis and reduce the risk of infecting others;
  • Abstain from sex for several days after the conclusion of diarrhea symptoms.