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Dysentery is a bacterial or amoebae infection of the intestine that causes diarrhoea with blood or mucus in it. Dysentery is commonly spread due to poor hygiene and often people become infected from eating contaminated food. Discover the common causes of dysentery, how it is spread and how to avoid it at home and abroad.

There are two main causes of dysentery:

  • Bacillary dysentery (shigellosis) is caused by the bacteria shigella which is found in faeces and is therefore most common in countries with poor sanitation.
  • Amoebic dysentery (amoebiasis) is caused by a single celled parasite called Entamoeba histolytica which is mainly found in tropical areas.

Both types of dysentery are usually passed on through poor hygiene and eating contaminated food.

Common symptoms include:

  • Diarrhoea containing blood or mucus
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • High temperature 

Prevention Tips

  • Wash your hands regularly:

With soap and clean water especially before handling, preparing or eating food, and after using the toilet.

  • Limit contact with infected people:

Try to use separate towels, bedding, cups and cutlery until they are well again.

  • Avoid drinking tap water if you are in a high risk area:

Make sure water is purified by boil it or treating with a chemical disinfectant. Alternatively drink bottled water instead.

  • Be careful with what you eat if you are in a high risk area:

Avoid raw fruit or vegetables unless they are still peeled, like a banana. Avoid milk, cheese or dairy products unless they have been pasteurised to kill bacteria. Food prepared by street vendors should also be avoided as you can’t be sure that it has been prepared safely. Unless you know the source, don’t take ice cubes in your drinks, these could have been made from the tap water.

Myths and Truths

  • Tap water is safe drinking water

Not necessarily. In many countries around the world sanitation can be poor and hygiene rules less strict. Harmful germs and bacteria can sometimes find their way into local water sources and contaminate tap water. To stay safe check that the water in you have access to is is safe to drink and if unsure, boil tap water before using it or stick to bottled water wherever you can.

  • I have a strong stomach so I won't get sick

It’s true that your immune system can get used to dealing with types of bacteria that you encounter every day. You may also have tried some adventurous food on holiday. But no one is naturally immune to dysentery, typhoid, cholera or hepatitis – the germs commonly responsible for food poisoning. Take steps to maintain good personal hygiene and avoid food that has been prepared in unsanitary areas.

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