Shigellosis is an infection of the bowel caused by the shigella bacteria. It is not common in New Zealand and is often acquired overseas. Travellers going to developing countries are at risk when they consume food or fluids that may be contaminated with the bacteria. Contamination often results from poor hygiene practices.

Doctors and laboratories are legally required to notify the Public Health Service of cases of Shigella disease under the Health Act 1956. In the Nelson Marlborough district around six cases of shigella disease are notified to the Medical Officer of Health each year.


Symptoms consist of:

  • Watery diarrhoea
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting (sometimes)

In typical cases the faeces (poo) contain blood, mucus and pus. Symptoms usually begin 1-3 days after ingesting the bacteria. Dehydration (fluid loss) may be severe, especially among infants.

Contact your GP or Healthline (0800 611 116) for further advice.

How is it spread?

Humans are the main host for the shigella bacteria.

Common sources of Shigella disease are:

  • Person to person spread from someone who is infected with the bacteria
  • Eating food that has been contaminated by an infected foodhandler
  • Drinking water or ice that is contaminated by sewage that contains the bacteria.


  • Wash hands thoroughly after using the toilet and before preparing food
  • Infected children attending crèches, day care centres, kindergartens or schools are subject to certain restrictions. Anyone looking after an infected child should pay special attention to their own personal hygiene, particularly hand washing.
  • Infected food handlers, food handler contacts of cases, health care workers and teachers are also subject to certain restrictions.
  • A person with the infection should not swim in a public swimming or spa pool, paddling pool or share bath water with anyone
  • Patients who work as food handlers, in childcare or healthcare or who are children, may be required to stay at home until they have been cleared by Public Health, of carrying the shigella bacteria.

Travellers should consider the following:

  • Use only bottled water for drinking and washing teeth. Ask for drinks without ice unless it is made from safe water.
  • Avoid uncooked food apart from fruits, vegetables and nuts that can be peeled or shelled by you.
  • Make sure food has been thoroughly and freshly cooked and is piping hot when served. A good general rule when travelling overseas is to “boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it.”