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What’s Shigella Bacteria That Killed A Girl In Kerala, How To Protect Yourself

Besides the girl, 52 people fell sick after eating shawarma in Kerala. Eighteen were hospitalised and seven were admitted to ICUs.

What’s Shigella Bacteria That Killed A Girl In Kerala, How To Protect Yourself
Representative image PTI

A 16-year-old girl died earlier this month in Kerala after falling sick from contaminated shawarma that she had at an eatery in Kasargod district. 

Besides the girl, 52 people also fell sick after eating shawarma at the eatery on April 29-30. Eighteen of them were hospitalised and seven had to be admitted to intensive care units, according to reports.  

Shigella infection, caused by bacteria of the same name, caused this sickness, according to Kasaragod District Medical Officer Dr AV Ramdas.

Here is all you need to know about the shigella infection, how it’s caused, what investigation into Kerala sickness has revealed, and how you should safeguard yourself against it. 

What is shigella infection?

The infection, also called Shigellosis, is caused by the shigella bacteria. It affects a person’s digestive system. 

The bacteria spread through contaminated water and food or through contact with contaminated faeces, as per Healthline. It adds that the bacteria releases toxins that irritate the intestines and causes the primary symptom of diarrhoea.

The common signs and symptoms of the infection are –

  • Diarrhoea, which can be watery, bloody, and may contain mucus or pus
  • Stomach pain and cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Fever

A test of a person’s stool sample can confirm an infection besides symptoms. Mild infections last for only a couple of days and may not require medical treatment, according to Healthline.

However, professional healthcare is advised based on the symptoms and the person's immune system. The infection is treated with antibiotics since it’s a bacterial infection.

What happened in the Kerala incident?

Blood and stool samples were tested at the Kozhikode Medical College Hospital which confirmed the shigella infection.

The New Indian Express quoted Kasargod DMO Ramdas as saying that sliced meat stacked for shawarma is slow-roasted for hours in front of a flame that can remain undercooked in rush hours in case the eatery tries to serve it quickly.

He added that the present weather is ideal for the bacteria to spread. In this case, not just shawarma’s meat, shigella could also have spread through mayonnaise and vegetable salad served with it.

Ramdas further said, "The bacteria can also spread if the food was handled by an infected person."  

How to safeguard yourselves?

Since unhygienic, undercooked, or contaminated food and water can lead to the shigella infection, the first step would be to ensure that your food and drinks are clean and are cooked fully and hygienically.

Hand hygiene is also a must as the bacteria can get into our food not only while cooking but also during serving and eating. So it’s essential to properly wash hands before serving and eating food. 

The Cleveland Clinic also suggests that you should be careful to not swallow water when swimming in pools, lakes, or ponds, as the water there might be contaminated. It adds that you should wait for a week after your partner has recovered from diarrhoea before having sexual activities with them – diarrhoea is a main symptom of shigella infection. 

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