Drug-resistant stomach bug poses 'serious public health threat'

Public health officials in the US are warning about an alarming increase in cases of ‘extensively drug-resistant’ Shigella bacteria.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) called the new bacteria strain, known as XDR Shigella, a ‘serious public health threat.’

‘XDR Shigella bacteria have limited antimicrobial treatment options, are easily transmissible, and can spread antimicrobial resistance genes to other enteric bacteria,’ the agency said.

Shigella bacteria cause shigellosis, a fairly common stomach bug that infects about 450,000 Americans per year. According to the CDC, about 5% of shigellosis cases in 2022 came from XDR Shigella – up from 0 cases of drug-resistant shigellosis in 2015.

‘Antimicrobial resistance happens when germs like bacteria and fungi develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them,’ the CDC said.

There are still treatment options for illness caused by XDR Shigella, but these medicines might be less effective, more expensive, or require the use of an IV.

Typical shigellosis symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, and fevers. Most of the infections occur in children under the age of five, people of any age are capable of contracting the disease.

Shigellosis is commonly spread through infected feces. Caretakers for young children can often spread the disease by coming in contact with ‘toys, bathroom fixtures, changing tables, and diaper pails’ used by children infected with the bacteria, the CDC said.

It is also spread by swimming in pools, hot tubs, lakes, or rivers with infected or recently infected people. Last summer, the disease was spread to dozens of people who vacationed at a water park in Kansas.

Shigellosis typically spreads quicker during the summer months, but the rapid spread of XDR Shigella began in last fall. It is unclear why the disease is spreading out of season.

The CDC plans to host a webinar with the UK Health Security Agency to address management of the disease in both countries.

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