Dysentery is no joke, with debilitating diarrhea as its hallmark symptom.
Every year, over 165 million cases of dysentery and just over 1 million deaths are reported worldwide, claims a study published recently in the journal Germs. Nearly 99% of these cases happen in developing countries.
Dysentery is a nasty gastrointestinal infection that is usually triggered by parasites or bacteria. In this article, experts will discuss what dysentery is, explore its causes, outline the two main types (amoebic and bacillary), uncover its symptoms, and describe treatments.
What is dysentery?
Dysentery is a gastrointestinal disease that leads to intense diarrhea that can have blood or mucus in it. Anyone can get it. But it's more common in tropical areas where clean water is hard to come by.
The Cleveland Clinic expresses the importance of water sanitation, which makes drinking water safe. That said, always wash your hands after using the bathroom. Neglecting this can spread the germs that cause dysentery to food, water and surfaces.
How do you get dysentery? It's all about the spread of parasites and bacteria. Dysentery-causing infections are highly contagious and usually pass from one person to another when poop (fecal matter) from an infected person finds its way into someone else's mouth.
The Cleveland Clinic explains that this can happen in various ways, including:
Dysentery isn't a one-size-fits-all illness. According to the National Health Service in the United Kingdom, here are the two main types:
Dysentery symptoms can differ depending on which type of dysentery you're dealing with. However, many with amoebic dysentery may not even notice they have it. If symptoms do appear, they can include:
In some rare instances, the amoeba can migrate to other parts of your body, potentially causing an abscess.
Bacillary dysentery, on the other hand, tends to bring about:
Severe dysentery can lead to complications such as extreme inflammation, dilation of the large intestine and acute kidney disease.
“If one gets dysentery, the treatment is a medicine to treat the bacterium or parasite that is causing it,” says Dr. William Petri, an infectious diseases specialist with the University of Virginia School of Medicine in Charlottesville.
Treating dysentery hinges on the type you have. For amoebic dysentery, the priority is to kick out that unwanted parasite. Your health care provider typically prescribes metronidazole (Flagyl), a medication tailored for tackling parasitic infections. Additionally, they may suggest antibiotics and over-the-counter nausea relievers.
On the other hand, if you've got bacillary dysentery, many people start feeling better within a few days to a week without treatment. But if your symptoms demand medical attention, your treatment may include antibiotics and intravenous (IV) fluids. In rare instances, a blood transfusion might be necessary.
When it comes to young children with dysentery, a report by the Rehydration Project indicates that routine treatment for amoebiasis isn't recommended. Treatment is only considered when bloody stools persist after using antibiotics effective against Shigella. Metronidazole is the preferred treatment for amoebic dysentery, with improvements usually noticeable within two to three days of starting treatment.
Living with dysentery
Dysentery, now more commonly referred to as Shigellosis, is something you can overcome. According to Mount Sinai, the infection can often be mild and may resolve on its own.
Prevention is equally important. “The best way to prevent dysentery is by practicing good hygiene, as these infections are spread by fecally contaminated food or water,” Petri stressed.
You can protect yourself by correctly handling, storing and preparing food and maintaining good personal hygiene. Hand washing, in particular, is the most effective way to prevent dysentery.
William Petri, MD, infectious diseases specialist, University of Virginia School of Medicine
Cleveland Clinic: Dysentery
National Health Service: Dysentery
Rehydration Project: Dysentery, Persistent Diarrhoea, and Diarrhoea Associated with Other Illnesses
Mount Sinai: Shigellosis
Cleveland Clinic: Shigella Infection (Shigellosis)