Bacteria sickens 177 in Genesee, Saginaw counties

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating an outbreak of Shigella infection that has sickened 177 people in Genesee and Saginaw counties since March, health officials said Wednesday.

Together with the Genesee County Health Department and Saginaw County Health Department, the CDC is looking for the source of Shigella bacteria, which can lead to severe diarrhea that sometimes requires hospitalization.

“Based on the request made by (federal health officials), they’re coming to help us figure out where this might be coming from and where we may be able to do prevention,” Genesee County Health Division Director Suzanne Cupal said Wednesday. “At this time, we don’t have a single source that’s identified.

“We’re contacting people who were ill in Genesee and Saginaw County to figure out how this was spread. There are so many possible cases we’re not speculating.”

Cupal said the number of cases peaked in July but slowed in September.

The number of cases is much larger than in a typical year, when about 20 to 25 Genesee County residents might come down with Shigella infection, Cupal said.

The outbreak has resulted in hospitalizations but no deaths in Genesee or Saginaw counties, Cupal added. She said people who think they might have Shigella should contact their primary health physician if symptoms are severe or don’t diminish in four to five days.

Symptoms — which include diarrhea, sometimes bloody; fever; and abdominal pain — typically start one to two days after exposure and can last up to a week, according to the CDC.

Shigellosis was among three illnesses — including cryptosporidiosis and salmonellosis — Genesee County said had been increasing this year.

At the request of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the county health departments, CDC officials are stationed at the Genesee County Health Department in Flint’s downtown.

Frequent and proper hand washing is the best way to avoid infection. If hand sanitizer is used instead, it should contain at least 60 percent alcohol, Cupal noted.

“We want everyone to make hand washing a healthy habit that everybody does regularly,” Cupal said. “Use soap, and rub hands together for at least 20 seconds. The friction with the foam is what’s getting the bacteria off your hands.”