Dysentery is an infection of the intestines that causes diarrhoea and stomach cramps.
Most people who get dysentery in the UK have only mild symptoms, such as diarrhoea and nausea. They may not need to see a GP because the condition can clear up within a few days.
Treatment is often not needed, although it is important to drink plenty of fluids to replace any that have been lost through diarrhoea.
Dysentery is a notifiable disease, which means that if a doctor diagnoses dysentery, they must tell the local authority.
Types of dysentery
There are two main types:
- Bacillary dysentery, which is caused by a bacterium called Shigella. This is the most common type of dysentery in the UK.
- Amoebic dysentery, also known as amoebiasis. This is caused by an amoeba (a single-celled parasite) called Entamoeba histolytica. It is found mainly in tropical areas, so this type of dysentery is picked up abroad.
Both types are commonly passed on through poor hygiene, and people often become infected by eating contaminated food (see Causes, above).
Amoebic dysentery is more serious than bacillary dysentery and is sometimes fatal if not treated.
How common is it?
Outbreaks of bacillary dysentery are common and there are between 2,000 and 10,000 incidents reported each year in the UK. Many more cases are not reported.
Amoebic dysentery is rare in the UK. You are most likely to become infected when travelling in parts of the world where the disease is common, such as Africa, South America, India and Southeast Asia.
Diarrhoea is the passing of frequent watery stools.
Bacteria are tiny, single-celled organisms that live in the body. Some can cause illness and disease and others are good for you.
A cyst is a fluid-filled sac or cavity in the body.
The sac-like organ of the digestive system. It helps digest food by churning it and mixing it with acids to break it down into smaller pieces.