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Local Doctors and Health Officials See Significant Increase in Stomach Illnesses

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(KCEN) – Local doctors and health officials are seeing an unusual amount of stomach related illnesses spreading across central Texas this summer. The two main culprits: Shigella: a bacterial infection, and a viral infection most likely the Norovirus.

“We’re seeing an increase in those food and water borne illnesses,” Kelly Crain with the McLennan County Health Department said. “You normally see it in the summer months spread very easily once everyone is swimming and ingesting infected water or spreading it at BBQ’s when passing food around.”

Crain says last year McLennan had 23 cases of Shigella, but already since January they’ve seen over 70 cases. Bell County is also seeing a big spike. Usually they get around 30 cases a year, but now they’re seeing 30 cases a month.

Shigella is a bacteria that occurs naturally in fresh water like lakes, rivers, and streams. When people swallow contaminated water, it can cause severe stomach pains, bloating, vomiting and diarrhea for about a week. It can also be spread in public swimming pools when infected people go swimming before they are completely over the illness. In addition to that, Shigella can be transferred when you eat food that has been handled with contaminated hands.

“We haven’t isolated anything as to why or where exactly it is happening,” Crain said. “It’s actually common with Shigella to sometimes see spikes.”

But it’s not just Shigella sending families to the doctor. Some local clinics are seeing increases in people with viral infections as well. “They’re very similar, and you really couldn’t tell the difference between the two unless you actually had lab testing,” Crain said.

Crain says Norovirus is not a reportable illness unless there are huge outbreaks like we’ve seen recently with cruise ships or nursing homes. So, it’s hard to tell just how many cases there has been this summer.

“We are seeing at least three to four people a day if not more with gastrointestinal symptoms, and it’s mostly viral illnesses in the clinics,” Providence urgent care physician Greg Newman said.

Newman says the spike he is seeing is most likely Norovirus the most common stomach related illness that affects about 21-million people each year. Unfortunately with the viral infections, they have to run their course.

While both are extremely contagious and cause severe vomiting and diarrhea, the Norovirus only lasts two to three days. Shigella also can have more severe symptoms like high fever and bloody stools, and will sometimes need antibiotics to fight off the illness.

“If you have that high fever and bloody stool, and it looks like they are becoming dehydrated that is when you want to go ahead and take them to the doctor, an urgent clinic or the emergency room,” Newman said.

If you have someone sick at home that is showing signs of vomiting and diarrhea, the best thing to do is isolate them as much as possible from the other people in the house. Make sure you are using plenty of sanitizer or cleaner around areas they have touched,  and give your employer a heads up so they can take the same precautions around the office. And the number one thing: continually wash your hands before eating or handling food.

 
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