Health officials investigating Shigellosis outbreak among Denver’s homeless population


Homeless camp in front of Morey middle school in Cap Hill

DENVER (KDVR) – The Denver Department of Public Health and Environment is investigating an outbreak of Shigellosis among the city’s homeless population

Shigellosis is a highly contagious disease spread through feces, known to cause diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps.

According to DDPHE, health officials began noticing a trend of Shigellosis cases at Denver hospitals between May 21, and June 14, among people experiencing homelessness. 

DDPHE is currently investigating 12 potential cases, with four confirmed so far. 

The spread of the bacteria can be stopped or lessened by frequent handwashing and good hygienic practices, according to DDPHE. 

Full statement from DDPHE: 

DDPHE and DPH are actively investigating an outbreak of Shigella sonnei, a bacteria that causes Shigellosis, an infectious disease that causes those infected to develop diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps usually starting a day or two after exposure to the bacteria.  The illness usually resolves within five to seven days, but can be prolonged if individuals are immunocompromised or have underlying health conditions.  It is highly contagious and spread in infected person’s feces. So the spread of the bacteria can be stopped or lessened by frequent, careful handwashing and good hygienic practices, especially after using the restroom and before eating. 

The outbreak was identified by noticing a trend of Shigellosis cases that were lost to follow-up by public health workers (workers were unable to interview the patients before they left the hospital or emergency department, if they were seen for care, and/or the patient does not have a working phone number/permanent address) during the time period of May 21 to June 14 who also reported experiencing homelessness. 

DDPHE and DPHE are reviewing records of 12 identified cases of Shigellosis during this time period. And through July 7, only 4 are confirmed to be matches and the remaining 8 are being reviewed closely as a part of the investigation, but may not all be connected with this outbreak.  Of the 12 cases under investigation as being possibly associated with this outbreak, 10 have a history of substance abuse, 10 have a history of experiencing homelessness, 9 are males, and ages range from 23-65 with a mean age of 43.6 years.  Information about the cases’ exposure to the bacteria is not conclusively known at this time and is part of the ongoing investigation.   

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