What is Shigella, the bacteria that killed a girl after she ate shawarma in Kerala?
The Kerala health department on Tuesday (May 3) identified Shigella bacteria as the cause for the food poisoning incident in Kasaragod, which claimed the life of a 16-year-old girl and led to 30-odd others being admitted to hospital.
The presence of the bacteria was confirmed in the blood and faeces of people undergoing treatment after they consumed chicken shawarma from an eatery at Cheruvathur in Kasaragod last week. Police have arrested the owner and staff of the eatery.
While food poisoning is fairly common and can occur in a range of situations, how common is Shigella infection, what are its symptoms, and when should you consult a doctor?
First, what is Shigella?
Shigella is a bacterium that belongs to the enterobacter family — a group of bacteria that reside in the intestine, not all of which cause disease in humans. It mainly affects the intestine and results in diarrhoea, sometimes bloody, stomach pain, and fever.
The infection spreads easily as it takes only “a small number of bacteria to make someone ill”, says the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is a food- and water-borne infection, and can happen when someone consumes contaminated food — like in the case from Kerala — unwashed fruit or vegetables.
The disease is easily spread by direct or indirect contact with the excrement of the patient. You can get the infection if you swim or take a bath in contaminated water.
How widespread is Shigella infection?
“Shigellosis happens, but it is not a very common infection. We usually see infections like typhoid and cholera because of contaminated foods. Perhaps one in 100 cases of diarrhoea in our hospital would be shigellosis,” Dr Suranjit Chatterjee, senior consultant of internal medicine at Indraprastha Apollo hospital in New Delhi, said.