Jan 8, 2024 - Health

Shigella cases spiking in Philadelphia

Illustration of a petri dish surrounded by various blocks of color, grids, and measurements

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Philadelphia health officials are tracking the rise of a potentially antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection known as Shigella.

Why it matters: The infection is easily spread and is mostly affecting vulnerable populations — those experiencing homelessness or opioid-use disorder.

State of play: Local cases began spiking in October, with numbers more than doubling those in previous months, per the city's Department of Public Health website.

  • They continued to rise in November and December.

Plus: Statewide Shigella cases also began increasing in October, with numbers more than doubling the five-year average, per a state Department of Health advisory.

Catch up quick: Shigella can cause diarrhea, fever and stomach pain, and in rare cases, death.

  • The infection can be spread easily from person to person by ingesting small amounts of fecal matter, like via contaminated food and water, during sex or changing diapers, per the CDC.
  • Symptoms typically start within two days of contracting the bacteria and can last for weeks.

By the numbers: 68 combined cases were reported in October and November last year, per the Philadelphia health department's latest figures.

  • That's compared to monthly figures below 10 through September 2023.

Threat level: The city has not reported any cases of the drug-resistant Shigella bacteria, known as XDR Shigella, as of its December advisory but warned the current outbreak is not always sensitive to antibiotics.

  • The state also warned in its latest November advisory that it's unclear whether the most recent cases were drug-resistant strains.

What they're saying: City health department spokesperson James Garrow tells Axios, "We're aware and are keeping a close eye on this situation."

  • Kirsten Wiens, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Temple University, says Shigella doesn't spread like wildfire like a respiratory infection can, but it can pass quickly among people in close contact, particularly among the unhoused.
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