Bacteria causing contagious stomach bug resisting common antibiotics, doctors say

CDC calling new Shigella strain a serious health concern, urges frequent hand-washing

SAN ANTONIO – Shigella is a bacteria that causes an extremely contagious stomach bug every year, causing cramps and diarrhea, sometimes containing blood.

“It’s transmitted by what we call the fecal-oral route, so that means you can get it from very close contact with the person who has it who may not have washed their hands, or you could get it from sexual activity, or you could get through food or water that’s been contaminated,” said Jan Patterson, an infectious disease specialist with UT Health San Antonio.

Patterson said the newest strain of the Shigella bacteria is concerning doctors across the globe because it seems to be resistant to commonly used antibiotics.

The bacteria usually shows up in young children, but this particular outbreak of the antibiotic-resistant strain is affecting other specific populations.

“Men who have sex with men, those who are experiencing homelessness, international travelers since it’s more common overseas, and immunocompromised persons, including those with HIV,” Patterson said.

A week ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a health advisory advising health care workers to educate these vulnerable patients.

The takeaway for everyone remains the same: wash your hands frequently, especially after changing diapers, sexual activity, or before handling food.

“If people do have diarrhea, especially bloody diarrhea, they should contact their doctor to see if they need treatment,” Patterson said.

She said you won’t always need antibiotics, but checking in with your doctor is a good idea.

As doctors focus on the issue, Patterson said there are two antibiotics the CDC has considered using to treat severe versions of the illness.

One is oral, and the other is intravenous. Neither was created to treat Shigella, but they may work for these vulnerable patients.

About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.