Intestinal disease spreading in West Michigan

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - A nasty intestinal disease is spreading like wildfire in Kalamazoo County.

It's called Shigella.

It causes severe bloody diarrhea, stomach cramps and fever.

So far there are 46 confirmed or probable cases in Kalamazoo County, and health officials expect the numbers to climb.

Health officials tell us Shigella is hitting the elderly and children the hardest.

In a typical summer season, doctors see less than eight cases.

But this year, more than five times the cases have popped up in West Michigan.

So far, the health department has not been able to figure out where it's coming from.

It's spread through contact with a sick person's fecal matter, which is ingested through the mouth.

The bacteria can last about four days outside of the human body, on items such as toilet handles, toys or door knobs.

So if you think you or a family member may have Shigella, stay out of swimming areas to reduce the risk of spreading it, and disinfect everything.

And if you're worried about getting it, health officials say like anything else wash your hands frequently, and try not to drink any pool or lake water.

"Children and the elderly, it's very easy for them to become dehydrated, so that's why it's real important if somebody has a child or elderly person with diarrhea, something uncharacteristic, like mucous or blood, with a fever, we strongly recommend an ill person follow up with their doctor," said Mike Phillips, a disease surveillance nurse.

The treatment for Shigella varies.

Someone with a mild case may recover without an antibiotic.

And doctors warn, don't take Immodium, it will only make the illness worse.

For more information on Shigellosis, click here.