According to WISHTV 8, a Charlotte, NC, neighborhood event took a turn for the worse when numerous birthday party attendees started calling 911 for assistance.
The Mecklenburg County Public Information Officer informed reporters that the incident began on Saturday at a neighborhood birthday party that was being held at a Forest Hills complex, and was caused by food being contaminated after being prepared by an individual who attended the celebration and who likely had failed to wash their hands.
Five separate 911 calls were made within one hour on Sunday from the same complex, and emergency officials quickly realized a common thread among those with the illness was attendance at the birthday party, which had a guest list of over 100 people.
Eventually, at least 40 people had been transported to area hospitals, and 19 ended up being admitted for severe symptoms including diarrhea. Several were children, and one 2-year-old had to be placed in the ICU. Four of those hospitalized have been confirmed to have the illness identified as shigella, an extremely communicable disease that could still be affecting more people who have yet to show symptoms.
The health department’s communicable disease control director, Carmel Clements, noted that signs of the illness could appear in as short a time as 12 hours or in as long a period of seven days after exposure.
Speaking to the Charlotte Observer, health director Gibbie Harris said anyone experiencing symptoms should seek medical care for potential dehydration and to learn how to minimize the risk of passing the disease to others. She notes that the stomach cramping and water diarrhea are significant, and it can go on for days, meaning most victims can be expected to seek care.
Health department officials have requested that anyone who attended the party throw away any leftovers, and are asking people to stay home from work or daycare if they’re showing symptoms, especially if they work in food service, healthcare, or childcare.
According to NCBI, shigella infections caused an estimated 34,400 deaths in children less than 5 years old in 2013. No vaccine exists for shigella, and only hand-washing awareness and hygiene campaigns keep the disease at bay. Those with weakened or compromised immune systems are especially at risk.
Charlotte isn’t alone in a rise in shigella cases; San Diego has already reported 98 cases in 2018 thus far, causing the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency to issue an advisory for at-risk populations, including the homeless community.
San Diego County public health officer Wilma Wooten commented, “Shigellosis is a very contagious disease, but there are many steps people can take to reduce their chances of getting it. The infection can be prevented by conducting frequent and thorough hand washing; disinfecting any areas that may be contaminated, such as restrooms or diaper changing areas; avoiding swallowing water from untreated pools and ponds, and not preparing or serving food to others when having diarrhea.”