Dysentery is an infection of the intestines that causes diarrhoea containing blood or mucus
is the passing of three or more watery stools a day. Other symptoms of dysentery include:
- stomach cramps
- nausea (feeling sick)
In the UK, most people who get dysentery only experience mild symptoms, such as diarrhoea and nausea.
Read more about the symptoms of dysentery.
When to see your GP
It is not always necessary to see a GP because dysentery often clears up within a few days.
However, see your GP if you have diarrhoea containing blood or mucus that last longer than a few days. Tell them if you have recently been abroad, particularly if it was to a country with poor sanitation.
Treatment is not always needed, but it is important to drink plenty of fluids to replace those that have been lost through diarrhoea.
Dysentery is a notifiable disease. This means that if a GP diagnoses the condition, they must inform the local authority.
Read more about how dysentery is diagnosed.
Types of dysentery
There are two main types of dysentery:
- bacillary dysentery or shigellosis - caused by shigella bacteria, this is the most common type of dysentery in the UK
- amoebic dysentery or amoebiasis -caused by an amoeba (single-celled parasite) called Entamoeba histolytica, found mainly in tropical areas, so this type of dysentery is picked up abroad
Both types of dysentery are commonly passed on through poor hygiene and people often become infected by eating contaminated food. Read more about the causes of dysentery.
To minimise the risk of catching the condition, you should:
- wash your hands with soap and water after using the toilet
- wash your hands before handling, eating or cooking food
- wash the laundry of an infected person on the hottest setting possible
If travelling to an area with poor sanitation:
- drink bottled water (make sure the seal is intact)
- do not have ice in your drinks
- do not eat fresh fruit or vegetables that cannot be peeled before eating
- avoid eating food or drink bought from street vendors (except drinks from properly sealed cans or bottles)
Read more about preventing dysentery.
How common is dysentery?
Outbreaks of bacillary dysentery are common. In 2010, there were over 1,700 cases of dysentery in the UK caused by the shigella bacteria. However, there are many more cases that are not reported.
Amoebic dysentery is rare in the UK. People are most likely to become infected while travelling in parts of the world where the disease is common, such as parts of Africa, South America and India.
Amoebic dysentery is more serious than bacillary dysentery, but both types will often resolve themselves without treatment.
In very rare cases, fatalities do occur. However this is more common in developing countries where sanitation is often poor and people do not have access to medical treatment.
In the UK, bacillary dysentery is usually mild and medication is available to treat more serious cases. Read about treating dysentery for more information.