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2002 News from Mecklenburg County

November 26, 2002


Charlotte, NC - A new, regional laboratory at the Mecklenburg County Health Department's southeast campus is playing a key role in the Department's investigation into an outbreak of shigellosis.  The lab is now testing some of the thousands of stool samples collected to identify patients with the disease.   

This regional laboratory is one of three in the state that can be used to more readily identify a potentially dangerous biological specimen.  The state recognized the need for such regional labs after a flood of samples were sent to the State Laboratory for Public Health in Raleigh last fall.  Establishing regional labs across the state will help rule out benign materials faster and allow more hazardous materials collected locally to be contained for shipment to the state lab for further testing.  The other labs are in Pitt County and Buncombe County.

The Health Department has identified 309 cases of shigellosis and 101 cases of salmonella.  Most of the cases have involved childcare centers. Once a positive sample is identified, the communicable disease nurse initiates the epidemiological investigation, which includes a detailed patient history, and identification and testing of those who have had close contact with the infected person.

Shigellosis is an infectious disease caused by bacteria that is present in the stools of infected people and spread via the fecal-oral route.  It is particularly likely to occur among toddlers who are not fully toilet-trained. Children can also catch it by putting toys or their fingers into their mouths. 

Symptoms of shigellosis may include stomach pain, loose stools, vomiting, nausea, upset stomach and fever.  A laboratory test on the stool of an infected person is used to determine that shigellosis is the cause of an illness.  It is most often treated with specific antibiotics.

In addition to contacting childcare centers, parents and physicians about the outbreak, the Health Department has produced a 12-minute video to reinforce the importance of proper hygiene practices and the role of the daycare professional in stopping the spread of the disease.  The video was mailed to more than 1,000 childcare centers earlier this month.

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