Dysentery is an inflammatory disease of the intestines, especially colon. Although this disease causes stomach cramps, it can lead to severe diarrhea that contains mucus and even blood.
As seen in most medical reports, people who travel more often have higher chances of getting infected with this disease.
Dysentery is a very dangerous disease and not one to be taken lightly, as it can lead to fatal consequences. In fact, each year, there are more than 120 million reports of the Shigella dysenteriae infection. To make matters worse, 1 million of those cases turn out to be fatal. Children under the age of 5 account for 60% of all fatal outcomes caused by dysentery.
With all this in mind, everyone should become more familiar with the disease itself.
So, how do you get dysentery?
Causes of Dysentery
According to the World Health Organization, there are two types of this disease: amoebic dysentery and bacillary dysentery. Each type has its own causes.
Bacillary dysentery, otherwise known as shigellosis, represents a type of dysentery that’s caused by the Shigella bacillus.
The main cause that leads to bacillary dysentery is poor hygiene. Since the patient’s blood is tainted, shigellosis can spread.
Amoebic dysentery, also known as amoebiasis, is the other type of dysentery, caused by the parasite Entamoeba histolytica, which is an amoeba.
This type of dysentery forms a cyst which leaves the body through human feces.
The amoebic dysentery is mostly found in tropical areas.
Areas with poor hygiene and sanitation are the most dangerous and should thus be avoided if you don’t want to get infected with amoebic dysentery. Amoebic dysentery can contaminate food and water as the amoebae can survive for long periods of time outside the host’s body.
Aside from that, there are other causes that lead to this disease, such as viral infection, chemical irritation, and parasitic worm infection.
Symptoms of Dysentery
Distinguishing the symptoms of these two types of dysentery will help you realize what type of treatment you need to choose.
Symptoms of Amoebic Dysentery
Patients infected with amoebic dysentery will experience the following symptoms:
- Abdominal pain
- Watery diarrhea
This type of dysentery can spread through the bloodstream and affect other organs. Also, patients diagnosed with amoebic dysentery may have ulcers, which will eventually cause blood to appear in their stools.
These symptoms can last for several weeks.
Amoebic dysentery is particularly dangerous due to the fact that the amoeba can continue living inside the patient’s body even after the symptoms have passed. In that case, the symptoms can reappear.
Symptoms of Bacillary Dysentery
Patients infected with bacillary dysentery will experience the following symptoms:
- Intense abdominal pain
- Blood or mucus in feces
These symptoms are usually mild and pass within just a few days. The “lifetime” of these symptoms is typically anywhere between 4 to 8 days. However, in severe cases, they can last even up to 6 weeks. Patients aren’t usually required to visit their doctor unless their conditions get worse.
Are There Any Complications?
If left untreated, dysentery can lead to severe complications, such as:
- Liver abscess – forms when the amoebae spread to the liver
- Postinfectious arthritis – after the infection has passed, patients may have joint pain
- Dehydration – Vomiting and diarrhea cause dehydration, which is life-threatening for younger children, especially infants
- Hemolytic uremic syndrome – anemia, kidney failure, and low platelet count can be caused by the Shigella infection as it can block the entrance to the kidney
In some cases, complications from bacillary dysentery may even lead to a coma.
How to Avoid Dysentery
As it was already mentioned, the main cause of dysentery is poor hygiene. As such, the best way to avoid getting infected with this disease is to take frequent baths, regularly wash your hands, and maintain hygiene in your household.
Since the disease is very common in travelers, they need to take the following steps in order to lower the risk of getting infected with dysentery:
- Only drink bottled water that comes from a reliable source
- Watch the bottle being opened and wipe the top before you start drinking
- Be sure to properly cook your food before you eat it
- Change clothes regularly
- Don’t eat raw vegetables
- Open fruits with peals by yourself
What Is the Treatment?
Depending on the type of dysentery, there are two most common treatments.
For the type of dysentery caused by amoebiasis, the most usual treatment involves the use of antiparasitic medications, like iodoquinol, metronidazole, etc.
When it comes to bacillary dysentery, the usual treatment consists of antibiotics such as ofloxacin, ciprofloxacin, azithromycin, levofloxacin, etc.
Also, no matter what type of dysentery you have, you should always make sure to drink enough water and rehydrate.
If you travel regularly, you should take some antibiotics with you just in case. For some travelers, bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) is helpful.
When Should You See a Doctor?
In case you have noticed one or more symptoms of dysentery in your child (the main risk group is under the age of 5), you should immediately take them to the doctor.
As far as adults are concerned, in most cases, the symptoms should disappear on their own within a week. However, if your symptoms last longer than usual, you should talk to your doctor.
If your doctor suspects dysentery to be the cause behind your symptoms, you will need to provide a stool sample for analysis.
Better Safe than Sorry
Now that you know the answer to the question “How do you get dysentery”, you know how to avoid it and what to expect in case you contract it. Let’s revise some of the important information.
Dysentery can pass in just a few days; however, the symptoms may last for even several weeks. If dysentery is left untreated, it can cause other, more damaging diseases, and even result in a fatal outcome. As such, you should always do whatever you can to avoid getting infected with this disease.
If you have young children, make sure that they maintain proper hygiene, regularly wash their clothes, and keep your household clean.
Travelers need to take extra precaution as they are also at a higher risk of getting infected with dysentery.