A small homeless encampment. Photo by Chris Stone

San Diego County reported three new shigellosis cases from the ongoing outbreak, bringing the total to 18 confirmed cases, officials announced Thursday.

Counted as well are three probable cases, all among individuals experiencing homelessness.

The continuing investigation shows onset of the bacterial illness dates between Aug. 16 and Oct. 15. The three new cases occurred between Sept. 20 and Oct. 15.

The cases in the homeless outbreak represent 7.6% of the 275 total cases reported to date in the county.

The individuals were found to have resided at multiple locations in central San Diego. No source of the outbreak has been identified.

The county is working with San Diego to identify potential exposure sites, promote good hygienic precautions among homeless service providers and food providers, identify additional cases and connect ill individuals to treatment and housing.

Preventative steps include:

  • Installation of handwashing stations, increased cleaning of public bathrooms and sidewalk sanitizing;
  • Notification by the county Department of Environmental Health and Quality about the precautions due to the outbreak for food facilities in the downtown area, charitable feeding operators, the California Restaurant Association and Gaslamp Quarter Association;
  • Assigning public health nurses to conduct outreach at shelters, and
  • Tasking homeless outreach teams with distributing shigella information as part of hygiene kits – including an extra 600 this week.

Shigella is a contagious bacterium typically spread by contaminated surfaces, food or water, or person-to-person.

According to the county, those at increased risk also include young children, travelers to locations with poor sanitation and men who have sex with men.

In 2020, a total of 240 shigellosis cases were reported in San Diego County residents, while the 426 cases reported in 2019 was the highest number since 1995.

Symptoms include diarrhea, sometimes bloody, as well as fever and stomach cramps. While most people will recover fully without antibiotic treatment, some individuals with poor immune systems can develop life-threatening disease and might need further treatment.

People with symptoms that resemble shigellosis should contact their medical care provider. The provider may order stool testing.

Strategies to avoid getting or spreading shigellosis include frequent hand-washing and not preparing food while ill with diarrhea.

– City News Service

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