The Fayette County Health Department is warning residents to take precautions against the gastrointestinal illness shigellosis as the number of cases has risen sharply.
Most years, the health department sees only one or two cases, spokesman Kevin Hall said. This year, more than 150 cases have been reported, he said.
Shigellosis symptoms include severe diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps. Symptoms can last 48 to 72 hours. Getting shigellosis once grants no immunity, so sufferers can get it again, Hall says.
Shigellosis is caused by various species of the Shigella bacteria. It's spread through contact from person to person. Transmission typically happens when people fail to wash their hands after using the bathroom. They spread the disease when they come into contact with others.
The illness typically is seen in children of day-care or preschool age. But Lexington adults also are getting it, Hall said.
"It's across the board: it's adults; it's kids," he said. "Anybody can be affected by it right now.
"In the past, we've done outreach targeted in the day cares. But since it's so widespread in the community at large right now, we're trying to get the word out to a wider audience."
The message, Hall said, is simple. Wash hands. Frequently.
Following these tips can help you avoid the illness, the health department says.
■ If people have symptoms, they shouldn't prepare any food for others.
■ Keep infected children and adults at home, until they're cleared by a doctor to return to work or school.
■ Children who have diarrhea should be kept out of day-care centers and common play areas.
■ Supervise hand washing of toddlers and small children after they go to the bathroom.
Good hand-washing practices can help protect against the flu as well as shigellosis, health officials say.
"If you're going to the mall, wash your hands," Hall said. "People going to movie theaters, wash your hands. People going out to eat, wash your hands. We can't stress that enough."
That's especially important with the holidays, as more people gather with children, cook and enjoy meals and snacks.
"I know it sounds a bit over the top to keep saying wash your hands," Hall said. "But that's really the best way to stop the spread of this disease."