- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 26, 2016

DETROIT (AP) - Staffers from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are stationed in Flint to help state and local health officials investigate an outbreak of shigellosis, a highly contagious gastrointestinal illness.

Since March 1, 177 cases have been reported in Genesee and Saginaw counties, the Genesee County Health Department said Wednesday.

Shigella outbreaks are not unusual. The illness is a bacterial infection spread through just a tiny amount of infected fecal matter. Diarrhea, fever, vomiting and stomach cramps may occur.

The number of cases peaked in early July and has slowed considerably since September, according to the health department. A source of the outbreak has not been identified.

The CDC was called in at the request of health officials from both counties and the state.

“They are working to help identify how people may have gotten sick,” said Mark Valacak, Genesee health officer. “By contacting those who were ill, we can learn more about how the shigella infection was spread.”

CDC staff is reviewing known cases and their potential connection to other shigella infections from other parts of the state.

Handwashing is the best way to prevent the spread of the illness, said Suzanne Cupal, Genesee County Public Health Division director.

“Some germs like shigella only take a small amount to make you ill,” Cupal said. “This is an opportunity to remind everyone that handwashing should be a healthy habit you practice every day. It’s critical after you’ve diapered, used the bathroom and before you cook food.”

People with shigellosis symptoms are encouraged to visit a doctor. In most cases, those infected will get better on their own in 5 to 7 days, the health department said.

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