PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning of a nationwide spike in drug-resistant shigella infections.

This illustration made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the Shigella bacteria. On Thursday, April 2, 2015, the CDC said a drug-resistant strain of a stomach bug made its way into the U.S. and spread, causing more than 200 illnesses since last May. Many cases were traced to people who had recently traveled to the Dominican Republic, India or other countries. (AP Photo/CDC)

The CDC said last year, roughly 5% of shigella infections were drug resistant, which is an increase from 0% in 2015.

As of January 2023, the CDC has identified 239 drug-resistant shigella infections from 29 states, including Rhode Island.

Joseph Wendelken, a spokesperson for the Rhode Island Department of Health, said seven drug-resistant shigella infections were reported in the Ocean State.

Wendelken said shigella is easily transmissible from person to person.

“This is a public health concern because drug-resistant shigella infections may be harder to treat, and they may last longer, increasing the chance that shigella may spread to other people,” Wendelken explained.

While anyone can become infected with the shigella bacteria, the CDC said some populations are more susceptible.

The CDC said the following people are more likely to contract shigellosis:

  • Children ages 5 and under
  • Gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men
  • People experiencing homelessness
  • International travelers
  • People with weakened immune systems

Shigella, according to the CDC, is transmitted by fecal-to-oral contact, person-to-person contact and through sexual activity.

Symptoms of shigellosis include bloody or prolonged diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramping.

Shigellosis symptoms usually resolve within a week of infection. The CDC recommends drinking plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and seeking medical attention should the symptoms get worse.

Wendelken said there are a number of steps people can take to reduce their chance of infection:

  • Carefully wash your hands with soap and water during key times:
    • Before any sexual activity.
    • Before preparing food or eating.
    • After going to the bathroom, changing a diaper or cleaning up after someone who went to the bathroom.
  • Take care when changing diapers.
    • As soon as you change a diaper, throw it away in a covered, lined garbage can.
    • Clean up any leaks or spills from the diaper right away.
    • Wash your hands and the child’s hands with soap and water right away.
  • Avoid swallowing water from ponds, lakes or swimming pools.
  • When traveling internationally, follow safe food and water habits and wash hands often with soap and water.
  • If you or your partner has diarrhea, do not have sex. To reduce the chance of shigella spreading, wait at least two weeks after diarrhea ends to have sex.