An outbreak of diarrhea-causing shigellosis in Dane County, mostly in children and young adults, prompted health officials Thursday to advise people to wash their hands and stay home if they are ill.
Eighteen cases of the bacterial illness have been reported since Sept. 20, one less than all of last year, said Amanda Kita-Yarbro, communicable disease epidemiologist with Public Health Madison and Dane County.
Seven of the cases have been in children 10 and younger, including students at Glendale, Sandburg and Schenk elementary schools and two Head Start programs, Kita-Yarbro said. One case involved a student at East High School.
Only one person sickened has been older than 40. All but three cases have been in Madison, on the Northeast and South Sides. The others are in Belleville, Monona and Stoughton.
Some people have been treated with antibiotics and some hospitalized. Anti-diarrheal medications, such as Imodium and Lomotil, can make the illness worse and should be avoided, the health department said.
Infections of shigella bacteria are generally spread by people who don't properly wash their hands after using the bathroom and contaminate objects or food, exposing others.
The disease can cause fever, stomach cramps and diarrhea that is often bloody. Symptoms can be mild or severe, potentially causing seizures in children younger than 2 years old.
"It's really important to wash your hands after you use the restroom and before you eat," Kita-Yarbro said. "Stay home if you're sick. Don't prepare food if you are sick."
The county's last outbreak of shigellosis was in 2008, when 190 cases were reported, most in the fall. The county had 16 cases in 2009, five in 2010 and 19 last year.