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Shigella outbreak: 10 cases confirmed among Santa Clara County homeless community, 22 suspected

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The homeless community in Santa Clara County, California, is experiencing an outbreak of disease tied to shigella bacteria.

The Santa Clara County Public Health Office released guidance concerning the infections, and offered data on the current scope of the outbreak.

According to the Public Health Office, 10 “individuals experiencing homelessness in Santa Clara County” have tested positive for shigella, and 22 people are suspected cases.

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Officials say the outbreak is linked to the Guadalupe River traveling downstream from Highway 85 and is concentrated in the local homeless community.

“People who do come in contact should avoid swallowing the water and should wash with soap and water before eating or touching their face,” the Public Health Office said in its guidance. 

It added, “Partner organization workers who may come into contact with river water in the vicinity of the encampments have been advised to wear personal protective equipment.”

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Shigella germs are usually found in feces and exposure can cause a variety of symptoms, including fever, stomach pains and bloody diarrhea. 

The infection can spread through sexual contact, sharing drinking containers and caring for others who are sick.

Dehydration is a significant risk to those suffering from infection caused by shigella bacteria (shigellosis). Infected individuals are encouraged to drink plenty of fluids during the course of the illness.

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Shigella outbreaks have occurred in other cities of the United States with dense homeless populations.

Portland, Oregon, experienced 227 documented shigella cases in 2023, according to Multnomah County health officials. Forty-five of those cases occurred in December alone.

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