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Shigella, the bacteria that killed a girl after she ate shawarma in Kerala

The Shigella bacterium was confirmed by the Kerala health department on Tuesday (May 3) as the source of the food poisoning incident in Kasaragod, which claimed the life of a 16-year-old girl and sent 30 others to the hospital.

The pathogen was found in the blood and faeces of persons who were seeking treatment after eating chicken shawarma from a restaurant in Cheruvathur, Kasaragod, last week. The restaurant’s owner and personnel have been detained.

Shigella is a member of the enterobacter family, which includes bacteria that live in the intestine but do not all cause disease in humans. It mostly affects the gut, causing diarrhoea, which can be bloody, stomach discomfort, and fever.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it just takes a minimal number of germs to make someone sick. It is a food- and water-borne infection that can develop when someone consumes contaminated food, such as unwashed fruit or vegetables, as in the case of Kerala.

The illness is easily transmitted by direct or indirect contact with the patient’s faeces. You can contract the virus by swimming or bathing in polluted water.

‘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’, said Dr Suranjit Chatterjee, senior consultant of internal medicine at Indraprastha Apollo hospital in New Delhi.

Shigella sonnei, Shigella flexneri, Shigella boydii, and Shigella dysenteriae are the four forms of Shigella bacteria that harm humans. The toxin produced by the fourth kind causes the most serious illness.

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Shigella infection can be prevented in the same way as any other food- or water-borne illness. Before and after a meal, following a bowel movement wash your hands thoroughly. Make sure you are drinking clean water and eating fresh fruits and veggies.

‘Products such as milk, chicken, and fish can get infected easily and must be kept at a proper temperature. They must also be properly cooked’, Dr Amit Singh, associate professor at the Centre for Infectious Disease Research at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, said.


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