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MDHHS highlights importance of careful handwashing in preventing shigellosis; CDC handwashing materials being printed and distributed throughout Genesee County

For Immediate Release: October 5, 2016

LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) is reminding Genesee County residents of the importance of careful handwashing to combat the spread of shigellosis.

“Washing your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds is the best way to protect against the spread of Shigella,” said Dr. Eden Wells, chief medical executive with MDHHS.  “While alcohol-based sanitizers can be a useful backup, they do not eliminate all types of germs – using warm water and soap is more effective at keeping residents and communities healthy.”

In Flint, unfiltered water is safe for handwashing and bathing. When using filtered water for any purpose, it’s important to ensure the filter is properly installed, filter cartridges are replaced as indicated, and they are properly maintained according to the manufacturer’s guidelines. Free filters and replacement cartridges are available at all of the Community Water Resource Sites.

So far this year, Genesee County has had 85 confirmed and probable cases of shigellosis, up from 20 cases in 2015 and four cases in 2014. The most important part of controlling a shigellosis outbreak is through handwashing and proper hygiene including food handling and personal care activities such as diapering.

Shigellosis is a bacterial disease that is spread person-to-person through fecal-oral transmission. Symptoms typically start one to two days after exposure and include mild to severe diarrhea, fever, bloody stools, and abdominal pain, with symptoms usually lasting five to seven days.

Careful handwashing at the following times is key to prevention:

  • Before, during, and after preparing food

  • Before eating food

  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick

  • Before and after treating a cut or wound

  • After using the toilet

  • After changing diapers or cleaning up after a child who has used the toilet

  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing

  • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste

  • After handling pet food or pet treats

  • After touching garbage

Handwashing is most effective when you follow these steps:

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.

  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands between your fingers, and under your nails.

  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.

  • Rinse hands well under clean, running water.

  • Dry hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

MDHHS and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) have provided guidance and information about shigellosis to Genesee County Health Department (GCHD) to distribute to families, schools, daycares, and health care providers. MDHHS has been printing large volumes of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) materials, per GCHD request, and has been working with GCHD staff on their development of a hand washing campaign. The materials are being distributed to the GCHD, the healthcare community, schools, Community Water Resources Sites, and state buildings. Additionally, MDHHS staff has held multiple phone calls with GCHD and CDC to assist with the outbreak since May 2016.

MDHHS continues to work with federal, state, and local partners, and has also issued a Health Alert Network (HAN) notification to reinforce the public health messaging with the healthcare community. 

For more information about Shigella including prevention measures, visit  

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