Skip to main content Accessibility help



  • Access
  • Cited by 1


      • Send article to Kindle

        To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

        Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

        Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

        Outbreak of Shigellosis in a Homeless Shelter With Healthcare Worker Transmission—British Columbia, April 2015
        Available formats

        Send article to Dropbox

        To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

        Outbreak of Shigellosis in a Homeless Shelter With Healthcare Worker Transmission—British Columbia, April 2015
        Available formats

        Send article to Google Drive

        To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

        Outbreak of Shigellosis in a Homeless Shelter With Healthcare Worker Transmission—British Columbia, April 2015
        Available formats
Export citation

To the Editor—Shigellosis is a highly infectious bacterial infection with symptoms from mild, self-limiting gastroenteritis to severe illness. Shigella flexneri and S. sonnei are the 2 most common species in British Columbia. 1 Most cases (62%) in British Columbia are travel related. Domestic outbreaks in daycares and through sexual contact are common owing to type of contact and low infectious dose for Shigella species—10 or fewer organisms. 2 Outbreaks in homeless populations are a concern owing to client vulnerability and risk of widespread transmission from inadequate sanitation. Healthcare workers are considered at high risk of transmission to others if they are ill with shigellosis; however, transmission of Shigella to healthcare workers is rarely documented in outbreak investigations. In April 2015, British Columbia public health officials investigated a shigellosis outbreak among persons associated with a homeless shelter and their attending healthcare providers.

Patient A, a middle-aged man with medical history including cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma secondary to hepatitis B and C infection, developed bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramping on March 31, 2015, that persisted for 1 week before hospital admission on April 7, 2015. Episodes of uncontrollable loose bowel movements resulted in fecal contamination of his living environments, including a shelter day-program. Blood and stool cultures collected on April 7 grew S. sonnei. He was treated with ceftriaxone but remained in the hospital until April 30, 2015, owing to complications of his underlying medical conditions.

Patient B, a middle-aged man with a history of injection drug abuse and chronic hepatitis C, developed fever, confusion, and profuse diarrhea on April 1, 2015, while at the same shelter day-program patient A attended. Emergency services attended to him at the shelter and transported him to the hospital. On admission, he was covered in stool, was febrile (temperature, 39°C), and had delirium and decreased level of consciousness requiring sedation and intubation. Stool cultures collected on April 3 grew S. sonnei. He was treated with piperacillin/tazomycin while in the hospital. He left the hospital against medical advice on April 4.

Patient C, a previously healthy middle-aged man, was part of the first responder team who attended patient B at the shelter on April 1, including transferring and handling his soiled clothes. Patient C sprayed his contaminated boots, removed his gloves, and cleaned his hands with alcohol-based hand sanitizer. He developed symptoms of bloody diarrhea and abdominal discomfort on April 4; stool culture collected on April 11 grew S. sonnei.

Patient D, a previously healthy middle-aged healthcare worker, attended to patient B in the emergency department on April 1. She donned gown and gloves and followed hand hygiene per usual contact precautions but noted that patient B’s thrashing was spreading feces widely. She developed diarrhea on April 3; stool culture collected on April 10 grew S. sonnei.

Pulsed-field gel electrophoresis using both Xba and Bln enzymes are routinely performed on all S. sonnei in British Columbia using PulseNet Canada protocol. 3 Pulsed-field gel electrophoresis patterns of S. sonnei, subgroup D, for 3 of the 4 ill persons’ stool specimens were identical by both enzymes. Patient C had a closely related Xba pattern and identical Bln pattern. Susceptibility testing showed varying multidrug-resistance patterns, but all 4 isolates were resistant to ciprofloxacin and trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole. Isolates of patients A and C were susceptible to ampicillin and ceftriaxone, whereas those of patients B and D were not. Patient B’s isolate was initially reported as resistant to azithromycin, but according to Salmonella Typhi minimal inhibitory concentration breakpoints for azithromycin sensitivity against Shigella, both patients B and D were sensitive to azithromycin.

We evaluated the potential exposures from each patient and conducted an environmental assessment to determine the risk for further disease transmission. Public health actions at the shelter included active case finding of other clients and staff, which revealed no additional cases. Shelter management and outreach medical clinic staff received education on transmission of diarrheal illness, and signage was posted to reinforce good personal hygiene. Thorough disinfection and cleaning of the shelter were undertaken.

Staff at the local hospital were notified of the outbreak and alerted to contact public health immediately with any additional suspect cases. All cases of shigellosis reported from March 25 through April 20, 2015, were reviewed for potential linkage to this cluster.

S. sonnei generally causes milder diarrheal illness compared with other Shigella species. 4 The severity of illness in patients A and B was likely related to chronic comorbid conditions, a consideration for treating shigellosis in a homeless population. Incomplete treatment of patient B posed a risk to the patient and risk of transmission of a multidrug-resistant strain. Recent reports that 87% of S. sonnei isolates in the United States were nonsusceptible to ciprofloxacin have raised awareness of drug resistance and the need for rational antibiotic treatment. 5 Laboratory testing of isolates from all 4 cases in this outbreak showed nonsusceptibility to ciprofloxacin and additional resistance to typical first-line antibiotics. However, without Clinical and Laboratory Standards Institute guidelines for azithromycin susceptibility interpretation, testing for azithromycin is not routine and inconsistently reported.

Transmission to 2 healthcare workers, despite appropriate contact precautions, highlights the increased risk from explosive diarrhea due to shigellosis. Contact precautions are the recommended standard but droplet precautions, including foot coverings, masks, and goggles, may be more appropriate for managing a patient with uncontrolled diarrhea. 6 Soap and water hand hygiene may be more effective than alcohol-based hand rub in removing gross contamination on hands and forearms. 7 , 8


We thank Rhonda McLean and Cecilia Park of Fraser Health, and Cynthia Misfeldt of Public Health Agency of Canada.

Financial support. None reported.

Potential conflicts of interest. All authors report no conflicts of interest relevant to this article.


1. BC Centre for Disease Control. British Columbia annual summary of reportable diseases 2013. Published 2013. Accessed July 12, 2015.
2. Kothary, MH, Babu, US. Infective dose of foodborne pathogens in volunteers: a review. J Food Safety 2001;21:4973.
3. PulseNet International. Standard operating procedure for PulseNet PFGE of Escherichia coli 0157:H7, Escherichia coli non-0157 (STEC), Salmonella serotypes, Shigella sonnei and Shigella flexneri. Published March 24, 2013. Accessed July 12, 2015.
4. Heiman, KE, Bowen, A. Shigellosis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. CDC health information for international travel. Published July 10, 2015. Accessed July 12, 2015.
5. Bowen, A, Hurd, J, Hoover, C, et al. Importation and domestic transmission of Shigella sonnei resistant to ciprofloxacin—United States, May 2014–February 2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2015;64:318320.
6. Siegel, JD, Rhinehart, E, Jackson, M, Chiarello, L, Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee. 2007, Guideline for isolation precautions: preventing transmission of infectious agents in healthcare settings. Reviewed January 13, 2015. Accessed July 12, 2015.
7. Pickering, AJ, Davis, J, Boehm, AB. Efficacy of alcohol-based hand sanitizer on hands soiled with dirt and cooking oil. J Water Health 2011;9:429433.
8. Todd, ECD, Michaels, BS, Holah, J, Smith, D, Grieg, JD, Bartleson, CA. Outbreaks where food workers have been implicated in the spread of foodborne disease, part 10: alcohol-based antiseptics for hand disinfection and a comparison of their effectiveness with soaps. J Food Prot 2010;73:21282140.