Dysentery: Causes of Dysentery & Symptoms of Dysentery

By: Corwin Brown

Dysentery is a disease involving the inflammation of the lining of the large intestines. The inflammation causes stomach pains and diarrhoea. Some cases involve vomiting and fever. The bacteria enters the body through the mouth in food or water, and also by human feaces and contact with infected people. The diarrhoea causes people suffering from dysentery to lose important salts and fluids from the body.

This can be fatal if the body dehydrates. This disease struck the men in the trenches as there was no proper sanitation. Latrines in the trenches were pits four to five feet deep. When they were within one foot they were supposed to be filled in and the soldiers had the job of digging a new one. Sometimes there was not time for this and men used a nearby shell-hole.

Dysentery is an infection of the gut caused by a bacterium called shigella. Shigella sonnei is most often responsible for outbreaks in the UK. S. flexneri, S. boydii and S. dysenteriae are also causes. Dysentery is usually spread by hand-to-mouth transfer from person-to-person or from surfaces that have been contaminated by an infected person. An infection of E. histolytica is called amebiasis, and any resulting bloody diarrhea is called amebic dysentery. Infections of shigella bacteria, called shigellosis, can lead to bacillary dysentery.

The main symptom of epidemic dysentery is bloody diarrhoea. Other common symptoms include abdominal cramps, fever and rectal pain. Less frequent complications can include a form of blood poisoning known as sepsis, seizure and kidney failure. Approximately 5-15% of epidemic dysentery cases are fatal. It tends to be more common in infants, and elderly and malnourished people. Mortality is also highest in these groups.

Dysentery is dissimilar to dysentery caused by infection from shigella, in that it mostly occurs in places or countries with hot climates. But in a similar manner to the bacterium, the ameba is also spread via contaminated water, or contaminated and improperly cooked food or through directly eating raw vegetables or fruit grown on contaminated soil and, in some rare cases, through physical contact with a person who has been infected. Even people with little or no sign of the illness or infection can transmit the germs through physical contact with persons, they are simply known as carriers, and pass the illness very effectively. Especially in places where sanitary practices are rather less developed or poor, these types of dysentery can be quite abundant.

Good hygiene and a little common sense are the keys to avoiding dysentery. If you're visiting or living in an area with poor sanitation, be especially wary of the water. Simply brushing your teeth with tap water or tossing a couple of ice cubes in a drink can be enough to make you sick. In many areas, the only safe beverages are boiled water, canned or bottled sodas, beer, wine, and tea and coffee (made with boiled water). If it's not possible to boil your water, treat it with chemical disinfectants such as iodine or chlorine. For extra protection, strain the water through an "absolute 1 micron" filter (available at camping supply stores) before adding the disinfectant.

The first and main task in managing any episode of dysentery is to maintain fluid intake using oral rehydration therapy. If this can not be adequately maintained, either through nausea and vomiting or the profuseness of the diarrhea, then hospital admission may be required for intravenous fluid replacement.

Ideally no antimicrobial therapy is started until microbiological microscopy and culture studies have established the specific infection involved. Where laboratory services are lacking, it may be required to initiate a combination of drugs including an amoebicidal drug to kill the parasite and an antibiotic to treat any associated bacterial infection.

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