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Eight cases of shigellosis - a disease that can cause diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps - have been confirmed in Roane County since Sept. 30, according to Dr. Tara Sturdivant, a regional health officer with the East Tennessee Regional Health Office.
"That number is slightly up for a three-week period, but this type of infection is cyclical," Sturdivant said. "We have outbreaks from time-to-time. We had a pretty significant one back in 2002, so it's almost time for one again I would say."
Shigellosis is an infectious disease caused by a group of bacteria called shigella, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The symptoms usually show up a day or two after being exposed to the bacteria - which is commonly spread by people who do not wash their hands after using the bathroom.
While some schools in the region have reported concentrated outbreaks, Roane County's have been more widespread.
Sturdivant said the Roane cases were not concentrated to one particular area or age group.
"We had it in several schools and a wide age range," she said. "We've not had any elderly patients thus far."
Shigellosis is easily preventable, Sturdivant said.
Good handwashing is the best way to avoid the disease.
"Wash your hands with soap and use a paper towel to turn the spigots on and off," Sturdivant said. "Also use a paper towel to open the bathroom door, if you can, because if somebody else has shigellosis and uses the bathroom and left some of the shigella germs behind on the handle, you can contract that very easily."
People with shigellosis usually recover within a week, according to the CDC.
Sturdivant said concerned parents should teach and stress the proper handwashing techniques to their children.
"They need to make sure they consistently wash their hands before they eat and know how to wash their hands the right way," Sturdivant said. "This is a preventable infection."