Oct. 19 2016 12:26 AM

County tracks intestinal infection, cautions residents to wash hands

Ingham County health officials are warning residents to be “vigilant” about hand washing to prevent the spread of the bacterial disease shigellosis. The warning comes after the county has confirmed eight cases of the intestinal disease and suspects another 30 cases.

County officials have labeled the increased reports of the disease an “outbreak,” which means there are more cases identified than would be expected. Usually they see only eight cases in an entire year.

The first case in the county was confirmed in state labs on Sept. 30, said Amanda Darche, spokeswoman for the Ingham County Health Department. Most of the cases affected elementary age students and those close to them, such as family members, she said.

The bacterial infection is spread mostly through person to person contact. Symptoms of the infection, which health officials called “highly contagious,” include fever, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea that may contain blood. Those symptoms usually appear one to three days after infection, and most cases resolve on their own, or with a course of antibiotics.

The CDC warns that the shigella bacteria have been documented to have increased resistance to frontline antibiotics. Resistant infections are more difficult and more expensive to treat.

But health officials note this disease can be easily prevented.

“To avoid infection, people should thoroughly wash their hands, especially after using the bathroom or diapering a child, and before eating or preparing food,” said Ingham County Health Officer Linda S. Vail in a press release Monday. “Hand sanitizer is also effective between hand washings, but it is not a substitute for soap and water.”

She also noted that while the bacteria can be last for weeks on hard surfaces, they can be destroyed using a diluted bleach solution. County health officials say that a people infected with the bacteria should remain at home for 48 hours after the symptoms have disappeared in order to prevent further transmission.

Ingham County is not alone in dealing with an outbreak of the intestinal disease. Both Genesee and Saginaw counties have reported significant increases in the incidence of the disease in recent months. The CDC is assisting Genesee County health officials in their investigation into the outbreak in that county. Darche said at this time there was no tie between the other two outbreaks and Ingham County.