On Thursday, Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services updated their to-date shigella numbers, noting that the spread could have already gone well beyond the city of Eureka.
DHHS has identified seven confirmed shigella cases, eight probable cases and eleven suspected cases. Shigella is a highly transmissible diarrheal illness that spreads through oral ingestion, often after a person touches a surface contaminated with shigella bacteria before eating or drinking.
“We do believe that the spread is much broader than these numbers, so while our investigation has shown that spread is happening in Eureka on the 101 corridor, at this point we recognize that it could go well beyond the city, and so our focus in Public Health is really on prevention, ”Humboldt County’s Public Health Director Sofia Pereira said.
Shigella’s spread can be mitigated through frequent hand washing and sanitizing. Unlike the coronavirus, it does not travel through respiratory means, but through physical contact with contaminated surfaces or an infected person.
For example: If someone with unclean hands containing shigella bacteria touches a doorknob, then another person touches the doorknob, then smokes a cigarette, eats or drinks without washing their hands, they would likely get shigella, according to Humboldt County public health nurse Daniel Tran .
“I think one of the big things… is sanitation, making sure that people know to wash their hands. I think with COVID winding down a little bit, people might drop their guards a little bit, ”Tran said.
If people exhibit symptoms or suspect they were exposed, they should get tested at their primary care provider or call DHHS at 707-445-6200. Testing determines treatment, as different types of bacteria have different resistances, and testing informs doctors on which antibiotic to prescribe a patient, according to Tran.
DHHS first disclosed the presence of shigella in Eureka on Feb. 25, when it identified three confirmed shigella cases and two suspected cases. An infected person was believed to have washed clothes at Eureka laundromats, potentially spreading the bacteria. The laundromats were sanitized soon after the announcement.
As shigella can often be confused with food poisoning, it is difficult to track, and DHHS has not identified any more specific vectors of spread in Eureka, or how it arrived in Humboldt County.
People who test positive for shigellosis should refrain from sexual activity, sharing food, entering pools or hot tubs for two weeks, and potentially should take time off work if they are in industries such as food service and caregiving.
Tran noted that DHHS had spread flyers and distributed sanitizing wipes at Eureka’s homeless shelters, because the homeless, in particular, face challenges with finding places that allow them to wash their hands.
“We’re really encouraging residents all over Humboldt County, not just Eureka, to be mindful,” Tran said.
More information on disinfecting after any shigella exposure is available online at https://www.cdc.gov/shigella/shigella-toolkit.html
Jackson Guilfoil can be reached at 707-441-0506.