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Shigella Bacterial Outbreak Strikes Williamsburg and Borough Park

By Serena Dai | January 15, 2015 1:05pm
 Health officials are reminding locals to wash hands after a Shigella outbreak in Williamsburg.
Health officials are reminding locals to wash hands after a Shigella outbreak in Williamsburg.
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WILLIAMSBURG — Children in parts of Williamsburg and Borough Park have experienced a spike in cases of Shigella — a bacterial infection that causes diarrhea, fever and nausea, the Health Department said.

Eighty-seven cases were reported between Nov. 14 and Jan. 13, city health officials said. About 74 percent of the cases have occurred in children ages 5 and younger.

The infection, which most commonly impacts young children, is contracted by eating or drinking contaminated food or water, or by direct contact with someone with Shigella, according to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. 

The germs themselves exist in intestinal tracts and can be passed through contact with feces, the agency added.

The city has monitored cyclical outbreaks of shigellosis in the traditional Jewish community since the last outbreak between September 2011 and February 2012, where 206 cases were reported, the Health Department said.

The infection is mild, and most people recover on their own, the department said. Symptoms typically start showing up within two to three days, and most people will carry the infection for one to four weeks.

The Health Department previously warned officials of a potential outbreak, first reported by CBS2, and expected to see an increase in the number of reported cases as doctors became aware of the issue.

Gary Schlesinger, CEO of ParCare Community Health Network in Bed-Stuy, said his office has been "swamped with calls" about Shigella over the last two weeks, though he declined to provide a specific number.

The cases at his office, whose patients are 60 to 70 percent Hasidic, have mostly involved children ages 2 to 5, he said. Some parents are confusing the symptoms for the flu, and Schlesinger has been meeting with local schools to help combat the problem, he explained.

"Definitely there is an awareness going on about it," Schlesinger said.

Locals should be careful to wash their hands after using the restroom or changing a diaper, keep sick children at home from daycare, and avoid any sexual acts that could lead to hand or mouth exposure to feces, the Health Department warned.