A homeless woman sleeps on the sidewalk in downtown San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone

 San Diego County health officials are monitoring an outbreak of at least six cases of shigellosis, an infection caused by the shigella bacteria, in individuals experiencing homelessness since Sept. 30.

The cases were found after the individuals were hospitalized, according to the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency. They are expected to recover.

The county health department has notified San Diego and will work with the city and potential exposure sites and homeless service providers to ensure good hygienic precautions, identify any additional cases and connect ill individuals to treatment and housing, officials said.

A health advisory to local providers has also been issued.

“Shigellosis isn’t usually serious, but in the wrong circumstances it can spread, and we want to ensure this vulnerable population is kept safe,” said Dr. Seema Shah, medical director of HHSA’s Epidemiology and Immunization Services branch.

Shigella bacteria are typically spread by contaminated surfaces, food or water, or sometimes person-to-person. In 2020, the county identified 243 total cases. To date in 2021, the county has identified 220.

Although only a small number of organisms can make a person sick, casual contact is not the main way the bacteria are spread. Typical symptoms include diarrhea which can be bloody, fever and stomach cramps.

The infection is diagnosed with stool testing. Most people will recover fully without antibiotic treatment, though individuals with poor immune systems can develop life-threatening disease. Those with symptoms that resemble shigellosis are urged to contact their primary care physician for assistance.

City News Service contributed to this article.

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