An outbreak of Shigella infections (shigellosis) in Shawano-Menomonie County has been associated with “several daycare centers in Shawano and Hillcrest Primary School,” according to news reports. Hillcrest Primary School is located in Shawano, Wisconsin.

What is Shigellosis?

Shigella - Antibiotic Resistant
These are Shigella bacteria, which cause a gastrointestinal illness called shigellosis. In this image from the CDC, the bacteria are drug resistant, which is not the case in this outbreak that has sickened children in Shawano. However, the bacteria involved in the outbreak do have flagella, the hair-like structures, which allows the bacteria to cling to the intestinal lining.

Shigellosis is an acute bacterial infection of the lining of the intestines caused by Shigella bacteria. It causes severe abdominal pain and diarrhea, sometimes bloody (a sign of colitis). In some cases, it can cause a potentially fatal complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which is the leading cause of kidney failure in children in the United States.

Our law firm has represented children who developed HUS, and the families of children who died from HUS. In March of this year, our firm settled a daycare wrongful death case for $1 million. This case was not about the money:

“The family’s objectives in filing this lawsuit were clear and unwavering – to find out exactly what caused Myles to get sick and to hold accountable those who were responsible for his death.”

This is an extremely contagious infection.

In a daycare setting, the illness can be spread when a worker does not wash his or her hands adequately after touching contaminated stool. For example, if a toddler has shigellosis, that child’s stool will most likely contain Shigella bacteria. If a worker changes a soiled diaper but does not wash his or her hands well, that person could spread disease. Similarly, if the child touches the stool during changing and the child’s hands are not washed, that child could transmit illness.

With children constantly putting their hands and toys in their mouths, a daycare setting can be an incubator for disease if good sanitation is not consistently maintained.

Symptoms of shigellosis usually develop about 1 to 7 days after the child ingests the bacteria. Symptoms include:

  • Acute (sudden) abdominal pain or cramping;
  • fever, which may cause seizures;
  • Blood, mucus, or pus in stool;
  • Crampy rectal pain (tenemus);
  • Nausea and vomiting;
  • Watery diarrhea.