A Drug-Resistant Form of Dysentery is Appearing in the US

By Jamie Condliffe on at

A drug-resistant form of dysentery known as Shigellosis has begun to appear in the US, prompting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommend that doctors stop providing antibiotics to treat mild forms of the illness.

In a report issued yesterday, the CDC explained that 243 people across 32 US states and Puerto Rico have presented with a drug-resistant form of Shigellosis, sometimes known as bacillary dysentery. Caused by the bacteria Shigella, the illness can bring about symptoms ranging from mild abdominal discomfort to fever and diarrhoea with blood, pus, or mucus in the stool. It usually takes a week to recover from, but can be incredibly painful.

Shigellosis is increasingly brought into the country by international travellers—many of whom take the antibitotic ciprofloxacin to stymie its effect, as Verge notes. The CDC believes that this new strain of drug-resistant Shigella could be due to sufferers not finishing a full course of antibiotics—in turn exposing the bacteria to low doses which encourage resistance without killing them.

It’s feared that the new strain could spread rapidly. “Although this Shigella strain is strongly associated with international travel, it is now circulating domestically,” writes the CDC. “If introduced to populations of homeless persons, MSM, or children in child care settings, Shigella can spread rapidly and cause large, protracted outbreaks, as has occurred in the homeless population in San Francisco.”

Clusters of the drug-resistant form of Shigellosis have been identified in Massachusetts, California, and Pennsylvania. The CDC has made a series of recommendations to try and curb the spread of illness. It suggests that international travellers consume hot foods and fluids directly from sealed containers and doctors prescribe ciprofloxacin less often when treating mild cases of Shigellosis. And, unsurprisingly, it encourages everyone to wash their hands thoroughly with hot soap and water. But you knew that already. Right? [CDC via Verge]

Top image is a Shigella culture courtesy of the CDC