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Shigellosis outbreak in Arkansas thanks to those who neglect good hygiene

These tiny shigella bacteria can make you horribly ill and in some cases even kill.
These tiny shigella bacteria can make you horribly ill and in some cases even kill.
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention/Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

Once again there has been an epidemic of a disease because someone, somewhere, did not bother to wash his or her hands after using a restroom (see http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2014/06/arkansas-health-officials-trace-shigella-outbreak-to-walmart-hq-cafeteria/#.U9q2TfldXn0). In this instance it was shigellosis, a potentially-deadly disease caused by shigella bacteria. This germ, once found almost exclusively in tropical climates, is more frequently being detected in food here in the United States. It has been called, by one physician (whose name is forgotten, unfortunately) a condition “twenty times worse than Montezuma’s Revenge.” The symptoms include fever, nausea, and severe diarrhea, often containing blood. It can be mistaken for flu for these reasons, so may be frequently misdiagnosed. In severe cases, various parts of the body such as joints, eyes or internal organs may also become infected and permanent health damage can result.

In this latest outbreak, the initial victims were eating at a Walmart café at the company's headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. The couple, Mr. and Mrs. James and Delida Groom, were having a bite to eat at the Salsarita restaurant, located within the store. Later they exhibited the aforementioned symptoms of this horrible ailment. Within a short time (the illness began manifestation in June of this year) the restaurant was closed and an alert was issued by the Arkansas State Health Department concerning the shigellosis cases. In fact, they found that the contamination resulted in a total (known) number of 275 confirmed cases of the disease, across nine states. Food poisoning such as this can be spread faster by the multiplication of germs, especially when spread by hand, than via the food itself.

The way this works is easy to comprehend even if it may seem incomprehensible by its very swiftness. The “ground zero” person—the original contaminator—fails to wash his or her hands after using the toilet, especially for defecation. Shigella bacteria are commonly found in feces. Person 1 thus spreads the germs to food consumed by others. Person 2, etc., spread their own germs around not by sharing food as often as by poor sanitation habits. Leaving a dirty toilet seat, or as in many cases with those unfamiliar with the proper methods of using a toilet, by leaving used toilet paper on the floor, is another method. In fact, in many areas of the southland, including here in Los Angeles especially, it is the most common practice in public restrooms for used toilet paper to be left either on the floor or in open wastebaskets.

So next time an employee picks up the used, contaminated paper, she or he may not be wearing gloves. This staffer returns to some other work without a proper hand-washing, possibly even handling food for public consumption. Now that the laws here in California regarding glove use by food handlers has been struck down, the odds are even greater of this being an ongoing situation. See how this spreads so rapidly?

There have been some workplaces where employees have protested to management about the normal situation of leaving dirty toilet paper lying around. In such cases, management has proclaimed the complainers as “racist” because the people they complained about were from other countries. Never mind the fact that no matter where someone is from, they aren’t there now and are endangering everyone’s health. That includes their own, something no one ever seems to mention. It’s far from being racist to suggest that people, no matter who they are or where they were born, learn to use a modern flush toilet and practice decent sanitation.

No one seems to want to ever approach this topic in the workplace or in regard to public bathrooms. It’s long overdue, as the outbreaks of not just shigellosis but salmonella, listeria and other such diseases keep occurring more and more frequently. In the meantime, until such basic potty-training is openly discussed and dealt with, it’s far safer to wait until you get home not just to eat, but to use your bathroom.

For more information about shigellosis outbreak cases, see: Shigella lawyers of Marler Clark