Santa Clara, California (Photo: Getty Images)
More than 80 people have been infected with a serious bacterial infection after eating at a San Francisco-area restaurant, public health officials said Tuesday.
Twelve people have been hospitalized and are in intensive care after developing an intestinal infection caused by the Shigella bacteria, according to a press release from the Santa Clara County Public Health Department.
People contracted the bacteria after eating at Mariscos San Juan over the weekend. The health department closed the restaurant on Sunday and officials say it will remain closed until they can be sure patrons can eat there safely.
Shigellosis, the disease caused by the Shigella bacteria, is highly contagious and causes extreme diarrhea. It’s often spread by people who don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom, which health officials suspect caused the outbreak.
Shigella causes about 500,000 cases of diarrhea in the U.S. each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “It’s the third most common type of gastro-intestinal infection,” board-certified infectious disease specialist Amesh A. Adalja, MD, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, tells Yahoo Health.
Adalja says restaurants are an easy place for the bacteria to spread because it only takes a small amount of the bacteria to cause an infection. If a person who has been infected with the Shigella bacteria doesn’t wash their hands properly, and touches your food or plate that you eat off of, you can become infected.
It’s not just those who are exhibiting symptoms of Shigellosis that need to be especially cautious of spreading the disease — Adalja says people can carry the bacteria for up to a few weeks after they initially became sick.
Shigellosis is different from other bacterial infections that you may contract after eating at a restaurant because it can cause bloody diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain, a sensation of needing to go to the bathroom even when you don’t, and vomiting.
Symptoms can last up to a week, and, while the infection can clear up on its own, Adalja says it’s a good idea to get on antibiotics to treat the illness because it can progress if left untreated. “Shigella is a pretty severe type of diarrhea,” he says. “It can spread into the blood and cause kidney failure.”
If you suspect you may have contracted the Shigella bacteria, call your doctor immediately.