Shigella Outbreak

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An outbreak of a bacterial infection in Stephenson County has health officials on guard, urging residents to help slow the spread of Shigella.

In the last month, health officials report at least 41 Stephenson County residents have been diagnosed with Shigella, a bacterial infection that causes vomiting, diarrhea, fever and stomach pain.

Health officials say the number of cases is unusually high for the area and they cannot determine a source for the outbreak of Shigella.

"In Illinois there are about 600 cases of Shigella reported each year. So 41 in just one month is quite a lot for us," said Jeff Todd, Stephenson County Health Administrator.

Experts say hand washing is the best way to stop the spread of Shigella. Todd says thorough hand washing involves 60 seconds of washing with water and soap.

Most of the infected are school-aged children, which prompted the Freeport School District to send a letter to parents warning them of the outbreak.

"We don't want to be alarmist. We don't send letters every time there's a flu outbreak or a rash of colds but when so many people in our area and school district are affected we wanted to make parents aware. Especially since it's so easy to prevent," said Peter Flynn, Freeport School Superintendent.

Todd says the symptoms of Shigella should go away in a few days but for some it could take several months to completely recover.