Miami-Dade health officials warn parents about infectious disease affecting children

Miami-Dade County health officials are asking parents to take precautionary measures to prevent the spreading of shigellosis, an infectious disease often reported in children ages 1 through 9.

The disease is caused by a group of bacteria called Shigella and is extremely contagious, the Florida Department of Health said in a statement Tuesday. It can spread from person to person and symptoms include diarrhea that is watery and sometimes bloody, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and fever.

In extreme cases, especially with children and seniors, the disease can lead to hospitalization due to dehydration, said Gigi Rico, an epidemiologist with the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade. She added that the disease is mainly spreading within the household with siblings passing it on to each other and then infecting their parents.

“The young ones are probably the ones who allow it to continue,” Rico said, adding that the disease was probably introduced into the community due to a lack of hand washing.

The county has seen an increase in cases the past three months, officials said, with more than 100 confirmed cases reported since January 1. That is as much as the yearly average each year for the past three years.

Symptoms first appear within one to three days after contracting the disease, but usually resolve within five days to a week, officials said.

Miami-Dade County last experienced an increase in shigellosis cases between 2003 and 2005. Large community outbreaks are often associated with child care settings. “It does have a cycle,” Rico said.

Hand hygiene is the most effective way to prevent the disease from spreading or contracting it, officials said. Parents should supervise their children when washing their hands to make sure they do so thoroughly. Anyone changing diapers should immediately wash their hands as well as the child's hands.

Anyone with diarrhea should stay home from daycare, school or work for at least one day after the symptoms subside, according to officials. Parents of children showing symptoms should contact their healthcare provider.

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