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Dysentery Patient, Burma Hospital, Siam Art.IWMART1541787.jpg
A person with dysentery in a Burmese hospital, 1943
Specialty Infectious disease
Symptoms Bloody diarrhea, [1] abdominal pain, fever
CausesUsually Shigella or Entamoeba histolytica [1]

Dysentery is a type of gastroenteritis that results in diarrhea with blood. [1] Other symptoms may include fever, abdominal pain, and a feeling of incomplete defecation. [2] [3]

Gastroenteritis Inflammation of the stomach and small intestine

Gastroenteritis, also known as infectious diarrhea, is inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract—the stomach and small intestine. Symptoms may include diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Fever, lack of energy and dehydration may also occur. This typically lasts less than two weeks. It is not related to influenza, though it has erroneously been called the "stomach flu".

Diarrhea Loose or liquid bowel movements

Diarrhea, also spelled diarrhoea, is the condition of having at least three loose, liquid, or watery bowel movements each day. It often lasts for a few days and can result in dehydration due to fluid loss. Signs of dehydration often begin with loss of the normal stretchiness of the skin and irritable behaviour. This can progress to decreased urination, loss of skin color, a fast heart rate, and a decrease in responsiveness as it becomes more severe. Loose but non-watery stools in babies who are exclusively breastfed, however, are normal.

Blood specialized bodily fluid in animals

Blood is a body fluid in humans and other animals that delivers necessary substances such as nutrients and oxygen to the cells and transports metabolic waste products away from those same cells.


The disease is caused by several types of infectious pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, amoebas, and other parasites. The mechanism is an inflammatory disorder of the intestine, especially of the colon.

Inflammation Signs of activation of the immune system

Inflammation is part of the complex biological response of body tissues to harmful stimuli, such as pathogens, damaged cells, or irritants, and is a protective response involving immune cells, blood vessels, and molecular mediators. The function of inflammation is to eliminate the initial cause of cell injury, clear out necrotic cells and tissues damaged from the original insult and the inflammatory process, and initiate tissue repair.

Signs and symptoms

The most common form of dysentery is bacillary dysentery, which is typically a mild sickness, causing symptoms normally consisting of mild gut pains and frequent passage of stool or diarrhea. Symptoms normally present themselves after 1–3 days, and are usually no longer present after a week. The frequency of urges to defecate, the large volume of liquid feces ejected, and the presence of blood, mucus, or pus depends on the pathogen causing the disease. Temporary lactose intolerance can occur, as well. In some caustic occasions, severe abdominal cramps, fever, shock, and delirium can all be symptoms. [3] [4] [5] [6]

In biology, a pathogen in the oldest and broadest sense, is anything that can produce disease. A pathogen may also be referred to as an infectious agent, or simply a germ.

Lactose intolerance condition in which people have symptoms due to a decreased ability to digest lactose

Lactose intolerance is a condition in which people have symptoms due to the decreased ability to digest lactose, a sugar found in dairy products. Those affected vary in the amount of lactose they can tolerate before symptoms develop. Symptoms may include abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, gas, and nausea. These symptoms typically start thirty minutes to two hours after eating or drinking milk-based food. Severity typically depends on the amount a person eats or drinks. Lactose intolerance does not cause damage to the gastrointestinal tract.

Fever common medical sign characterized by elevated body temperature

Fever, also known as pyrexia and febrile response, is defined as having a temperature above the normal range due to an increase in the body's temperature set point. There is not a single agreed-upon upper limit for normal temperature with sources using values between 37.5 and 38.3 °C. The increase in set point triggers increased muscle contractions and causes a feeling of cold. This results in greater heat production and efforts to conserve heat. When the set point temperature returns to normal, a person feels hot, becomes flushed, and may begin to sweat. Rarely a fever may trigger a febrile seizure. This is more common in young children. Fevers do not typically go higher than 41 to 42 °C.

In extreme cases, people may pass more than one liter of fluid per hour. More often, individuals will complain of diarrhea with blood, accompanied by abdominal pain, rectal pain and a low-grade fever. Rapid weight loss and muscle aches sometimes also accompany dysentery, while nausea and vomiting are rare. On rare occasions, the amoebic parasite will invade the body through the bloodstream and spread beyond the intestines. In such cases, it may more seriously infect other organs such as the brain, lungs, and most commonly the liver. [7]

Rectal pain is the symptom of pain in the area of the rectum. A number of different causes (68) have been documented.

Nausea medical symptom or condition

Nausea is an unpleasant, diffuse sensation of unease and discomfort, often perceived as an urge to vomit. While not painful, it can be a debilitating symptom if prolonged, and has been described as placing discomfort on the chest, upper abdomen, or back of the throat.

Vomiting involuntary, forceful expulsion of stomach contents, typically via the mouth

Vomiting is the involuntary, forceful expulsion of the contents of one's stomach through the mouth and sometimes the nose.


Cross-section of diseased intestines. Colored lithograph c. 1843 A cross-section of diseased intestines (dysentery). Coloured Wellcome V0009858ER.jpg
Cross-section of diseased intestines. Colored lithograph c.1843

Dysentery results from viral, bacterial, or parasitic infections. These pathogens typically reach the large intestine after entering orally, through ingestion of contaminated food or water, oral contact with contaminated objects or hands, and so on.

Virus Type of non-cellular infectious agent

A virus is a small infectious agent that replicates only inside the living cells of an organism. Viruses can infect all types of life forms, from animals and plants to microorganisms, including bacteria and archaea.

Bacteria A domain of prokaryotes – single celled organisms without a nucleus

Bacteria are a type of biological cell. They constitute a large domain of prokaryotic microorganisms. Typically a few micrometres in length, bacteria have a number of shapes, ranging from spheres to rods and spirals. Bacteria were among the first life forms to appear on Earth, and are present in most of its habitats. Bacteria inhabit soil, water, acidic hot springs, radioactive waste, and the deep biosphere of the earth's crust. Bacteria also live in symbiotic and parasitic relationships with plants and animals. Most bacteria have not been characterised, and only about 27 percent of the bacterial phyla have species that can be grown in the laboratory . The study of bacteria is known as bacteriology, a branch of microbiology.

Parasitism relationship between species where one organism lives on or in another organism, causing it harm

In evolutionary biology, parasitism is a relationship between species, where one organism, the parasite, lives on or in another organism, the host, causing it some harm, and is adapted structurally to this way of life. The entomologist E. O. Wilson has characterised parasites as "predators that eat prey in units of less than one". Parasites include protozoans such as the agents of malaria, sleeping sickness, and amoebic dysentery; animals such as hookworms, lice, mosquitoes, and vampire bats; fungi such as honey fungus and the agents of ringworm; and plants such as mistletoe, dodder, and the broomrapes. There are six major parasitic strategies of exploitation of animal hosts, namely parasitic castration, directly transmitted parasitism, trophically transmitted parasitism, vector-transmitted parasitism, parasitoidism, and micropredation.

Each specific pathogen has its own mechanism or pathogenesis, but in general, the result is damage to the intestinal linings, leading to the inflammatory immune responses. This can cause elevated physical temperature, painful spasms of the intestinal muscles (cramping), swelling due to fluid leaking from capillaries of the intestine (edema) and further tissue damage by the body's immune cells and the chemicals, called cytokines, which are released to fight the infection. The result can be impaired nutrient absorption, excessive water and mineral loss through the stools due to breakdown of the control mechanisms in the intestinal tissue that normally remove water from the stools, and in severe cases, the entry of pathogenic organisms into the bloodstream. Anemia may also arise due to the blood loss through diarrhea.

Edema abnormal accumulation of fluid in the interstitium

Edema, also spelled oedema or œdema, is an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the interstitium, located beneath the skin and in the cavities of the body, which can cause severe pain. Clinically, hyperaldosteronism, edema manifests as swelling. The amount of interstitial fluid is determined by the balance of fluid homeostasis and the increased secretion of fluid into the interstitium. The word is from Greek οἴδημα oídēma meaning "swelling". The condition is also known as dropsy.

Cytokine broad and loose category of small proteins (~5–20 kDa) that are important in cell signaling

Cytokines are a broad and loose category of small proteins that are important in cell signaling. Cytokines are peptides, and cannot cross the lipid bilayer of cells to enter the cytoplasm. Cytokines have been shown to be involved in autocrine, paracrine and endocrine signaling as immunomodulating agents. Their definite distinction from hormones is still part of ongoing research. Cytokines include chemokines, interferons, interleukins, lymphokines, and tumour necrosis factors, but generally not hormones or growth factors. Cytokines are produced by a broad range of cells, including immune cells like macrophages, B lymphocytes, T lymphocytes and mast cells, as well as endothelial cells, fibroblasts, and various stromal cells; a given cytokine may be produced by more than one type of cell.

Anemia Decrease in the total number of red blood cells or amount of hemoglobin in the blood, or lowered ability of the blood to carry oxygen

Anemia is a decrease in the total amount of red blood cells (RBCs) or hemoglobin in the blood, or a lowered ability of the blood to carry oxygen. When anemia comes on slowly, the symptoms are often vague and may include feeling tired, weakness, shortness of breath, and a poor ability to exercise. When the anemia comes on quickly, symptoms may include confusion, feeling like one is going to pass out, loss of consciousness, and increased thirst. Anemia must be significant before a person becomes noticeably pale. Additional symptoms may occur depending on the underlying cause.

Bacterial infections that cause bloody diarrhea are typically classified as being either invasive or toxogenic. Invasive species cause damage directly by invading into the mucosa. The toxogenic species do not invade, but cause cellular damage by secreting toxins, resulting in bloody diarrhea. This is also in contrast to toxins that cause watery diarrhea, which usually do not cause cellular damage, but rather they take over cellular machinery for a portion of life of the cell. [8]

Some microorganisms for example, bacteria of the genus Shigella secrete substances known as cytotoxins, which kill and damage intestinal tissue on contact. Shigella is thought to cause bleeding due to invasion rather than toxin, because even non-toxogenic strains can cause dysentery, but E. coli with shiga-like toxins do not invade the intestinal mucosa, and are therefore toxin dependent. Viruses directly attack the intestinal cells, taking over their metabolic machinery to make copies of themselves, which leads to cell death.

Definitions of dysentery can vary by region and by medical specialty. The U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) limits its definition to "diarrhea with visible blood". [9] Others define the term more broadly. [10] These differences in definition must be taken into account when defining mechanisms. For example, using the CDC definition requires that intestinal tissue be so severely damaged that blood vessels have ruptured, allowing visible quantities of blood to be lost with defecation. Other definitions require less specific damage.

Amoebic dysentery

Amoebiasis, also known as amoebic dysentery, is caused by an infection from the amoeba Entamoeba histolytica , [11] which is found mainly in tropical areas. [12] Proper treatment of the underlying infection of amoebic dysentery is important; insufficiently treated amoebiasis can lie dormant for years and subsequently lead to severe, potentially fatal, complications.

When amoebae inside the bowel of an infected person are ready to leave the body, they group together and form a shell that surrounds and protects them. This group of amoebae is known as a cyst, which is then passed out of the person's body in the feces and can survive outside the body. If hygiene standards are poor – for example, if the person does not dispose of the feces hygienically – then it can contaminate the surroundings, such as nearby food and water. If another person then eats or drinks food or water that has been contaminated with feces containing the cyst, that person will also become infected with the amoebae. Amoebic dysentery is particularly common in parts of the world where human feces are used as fertilizer. After entering the person's body through the mouth, the cyst travels down into the stomach. The amoebae inside the cyst are protected from the stomach's digestive acid. From the stomach, the cyst travels to the intestines, where it breaks open and releases the amoebae, causing the infection. The amoebae can burrow into the walls of the intestines and cause small abscesses and ulcers to form. The cycle then begins again.

Bacillary dysentery

Dysentery may also be caused by shigellosis, an infection by bacteria of the genus Shigella, and is then known as bacillary dysentery (or Marlow syndrome). The term bacillary dysentery etymologically might seem to refer to any dysentery caused by any bacilliform bacteria, but its meaning is restricted by convention to Shigella dysentery.

Other bacterial diarrhea

Some strains of Escherichia coli cause bloody diarrhea. The typical culprits are enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli, of which O157:H7 is the best known.


A clinical diagnosis may be made by taking a history and doing a brief examination. Treatment is usually started without or before confirmation by laboratory analysis.

Physical exam

The mouth, skin, and lips may appear dry due to dehydration. Lower abdominal tenderness may also be present. [7]

Stool and blood tests

Cultures of stool samples are examined to identify the organism causing dysentery. Usually, several samples must be obtained due to the number of amoebae, which changes daily. [7] Blood tests can be used to measure abnormalities in the levels of essential minerals and salts. [7]


Dysentery is managed by maintaining fluids using oral rehydration therapy. If this treatment cannot be adequately maintained due to vomiting or the profuseness of diarrhea, hospital admission may be required for intravenous fluid replacement. In ideal situations, no antimicrobial therapy should be administered until microbiological microscopy and culture studies have established the specific infection involved. When laboratory services are not available, it may be necessary to administer a combination of drugs, including an amoebicidal drug to kill the parasite, and an antibiotic to treat any associated bacterial infection.

If shigellosis is suspected and it is not too severe, letting it run its course may be reasonable — usually less than a week. If the case is severe, antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin or TMP-SMX may be useful. However, many strains of Shigella are becoming resistant to common antibiotics, and effective medications are often in short supply in developing countries. If necessary, a doctor may have to reserve antibiotics for those at highest risk for death, including young children, people over 50, and anyone suffering from dehydration or malnutrition.

Amoebic dysentery is often treated with two antimicrobial drugs such as metronidazole and paromomycin or iodoquinol. [13]


With correct treatment, most cases of amoebic and bacterial dysentery subside within 10 days, and most individuals achieve a full recovery within two to four weeks after beginning proper treatment. If the disease is left untreated, the prognosis varies with the immune status of the individual patient and the severity of disease. Extreme dehydration can delay recovery and significantly raises the risk for serious complications. [14]


Insufficient data exists, but Shigella is estimated to have caused the death of 34,000 children under the age of five in 2013, and 40,000 deaths in people over five years of age. [15] Amoebiasis infects over 50 million people each year, of whom 50,000 die. [16]


The seed, leaves, and bark of the kapok tree have been used in traditional medicine by indigenous peoples of the rainforest regions in the Americas, west-central Africa, and Southeast Asia in this disease. [17] [18] [19] Bacillus subtilis was marketed throughout America and Europe from 1946 as an immunostimulatory aid in the treatment of gut and urinary tract diseases such as rotavirus and Shigella, [20] but declined in popularity after the introduction of consumer antibiotics.

Notable cases

A Red Army soldier dies of dysentery after eating unwashed vegetables. This is a common way of contracting dysentery. From a health advisory pamphlet given to soldiers. A Soviet soldier dies of dysentery as a result of eating unw Wellcome L0032151.jpg
A Red Army soldier dies of dysentery after eating unwashed vegetables. This is a common way of contracting dysentery. From a health advisory pamphlet given to soldiers.


Although there is currently no vaccine which protects against Shigella infection, several are in development. [15] [34] Vaccination may eventually become a critical part of the strategy to reduce the incidence and severity of diarrhea, particularly among children in low-resource settings. For example, Shigella is a longstanding World Health Organization (WHO) target for vaccine development, and sharp declines in age-specific diarrhea/dysentery attack rates for this pathogen indicate that natural immunity does develop following exposure; thus, vaccination to prevent this disease should be feasible. The development of vaccines against these types of infection has been hampered by technical constraints, insufficient support for coordination, and a lack of market forces for research and development. Most vaccine development efforts are taking place in the public sector or as research programs within biotechnology companies.

See also

Related Research Articles

Vibrio cholerae species of bacterium

Vibrio cholerae is a Gram-negative, comma-shaped bacterium. The bacterium's natural habitat is brackish or saltwater and attach themselves easily to the chitin-containing shells of crabs, shrimps, and other shellfish. Some strains of V. cholerae cause the disease cholera, which can be derived from the consumption of undercooked or raw marine life species. V. cholerae is a facultative anaerobe and has a flagellum at one cell pole as well as pili. V. cholerae can undergo respiratory and fermentative metabolism. When ingested, V. cholerae can cause diarrhea and vomiting in a host within several hours to 2–3 days of ingestion. V. cholerae was first isolated as the cause of cholera by Italian anatomist Filippo Pacini in 1854, but his discovery was not widely known until Robert Koch, working independently 30 years later, publicized the knowledge and the means of fighting the disease.

Shigellosis Human disease

Shigellosis is an infection of the intestines caused by Shigella bacteria. Symptoms generally start one to two days after exposure and include diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain, and feeling the need to pass stools even when the bowels are empty. The diarrhea may be bloody. Symptoms typically last five to seven days. Complications can include reactive arthritis, sepsis, seizures, and hemolytic uremic syndrome.

<i>Shigella</i> genus of bacteria

Shigella is a genus of Gram-negative, facultative anaerobic, non-spore-forming, nonmotile, rod-shaped bacteria genetically closely related to E. coli. The genus is named after Kiyoshi Shiga, who first discovered it in 1897.

<i>Entamoeba histolytica</i> anaerobic parasitic protozoan

Entamoeba histolytica is an anaerobic parasitic amoebozoan, part of the genus Entamoeba. Predominantly infecting humans and other primates causing amoebiasis, E. histolytica is estimated to infect about 50 million people worldwide. E. histolytica infection is estimated to kill more than 55,000 people each year. Previously, it was thought that 10% of the world population was infected, but these figures predate the recognition that at least 90% of these infections were due to a second species, E. dispar. Mammals such as dogs and cats can become infected transiently, but are not thought to contribute significantly to transmission.

Fecal–oral route Disease transmission via pathogens from fecal particles

The fecal–oral route describes a particular route of transmission of a disease wherein pathogens in fecal particles pass from one person to the mouth of another person. Main causes of fecal–oral disease transmission include lack of adequate sanitation, and poor hygiene practices. If soil or water bodies are polluted with fecal material, humans can be infected with waterborne diseases or soil-transmitted diseases. Fecal contamination of food is another form of fecal-oral transmission. Washing hands properly after changing a baby's diaper or after performing anal hygiene can prevent foodborne illness from spreading.

Enteritis is inflammation of the small intestine. It is most commonly caused by food or drink contaminated with pathogenic microbes, such as serratia, but may have other causes such as NSAIDs, cocaine, radiation therapy as well as autoimmune conditions like Crohn's disease and coeliac disease. Symptoms include abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhoea, dehydration, and fever.

In medicine, the fecal fat test is a diagnostic test for fat malabsorption conditions, which lead to excess fat in the feces (steatorrhea).

Coccidiosis is a parasitic disease of the intestinal tract of animals caused by coccidian protozoa. The disease spreads from one animal to another by contact with infected feces or ingestion of infected tissue. Diarrhea, which may become bloody in severe cases, is the primary symptom. Most animals infected with coccidia are asymptomatic, but young or immunocompromised animals may suffer severe symptoms and death.

Bacillary dysentery is a type of dysentery, and is a severe form of shigellosis.

<i>Aeromonas hydrophila</i> species of bacterium

Aeromonas hydrophila is a heterotrophic, Gram-negative, rod-shaped bacterium mainly found in areas with a warm climate. This bacterium can be found in fresh or brackish water. It can survive in aerobic and anaerobic environments, and can digest materials such as gelatin and hemoglobin. A. hydrophila was isolated from humans and animals in the 1950s. It is the most well known of the species of Aeromonas. It is resistant to most common antibiotics and cold temperatures and is oxidase- and indole-positive.

Protozoan infection Parasitic disease caused by a protozoan

Protozoan infections are parasitic diseases caused by organisms formerly classified in the Kingdom Protozoa. They are usually contracted by either an insect vector or by contact with an infected substance or surface and include organisms that are now classified in the supergroups Excavata, Amoebozoa, SAR, and Archaeplastida.

<i>Shigella sonnei</i> species of bacterium

Shigella sonnei is a species of Shigella. Together with Shigella flexneri, it is responsible for 90% of shigellosis cases. Shigella sonnei is named for the Danish bacteriologist Carl Olaf Sonne. It is a Gram-negative, rod-shaped, nonmotile, non-spore-forming bacterium.

Amoebiasis human protozoa disease

Amoebiasis, also known amoebic dysentery, is an infection caused by any of the amobae of the Entamoeba group. Symptoms are most common during infection by Entamoeba histolytica. Amoebiasis can be present with no, mild, or severe symptoms. Symptoms may include abdominal pain, diarrhea, or bloody diarrhea. Complications can include inflammation and ulceration of the colon with tissue death or perforation, which may result in peritonitis. People affected may develop anemia due to loss of blood.

Amoebic liver abscess infectious disease

A amoebic liver abscess is a type of liver abscess caused by amebiasis. It is the involvement of liver tissue by trophozoites of the organism Entamoeba histolytica and of is abscess due to necrosis.

Enteroinvasive Escherichia coli (EIEC) is a type of pathogenic bacteria whose infection causes a syndrome that is identical to shigellosis, with profuse diarrhea and high fever. EIEC are highly invasive, and they use adhesin proteins to bind to and enter intestinal cells. They produce no toxins, but severely damage the intestinal wall through mechanical cell destruction.

The host-pathogen interaction is defined as how microbes or viruses sustain themselves within host organisms on a molecular, cellular, organismal or population level. This term is most commonly used to refer to disease-causing microorganisms although they may not cause illness in all hosts. Because of this, the definition has been expanded to how known pathogens survive within their host, whether they cause disease or not.

Enteroaggregative <i>Escherichia coli</i>

Enteroaggregative Escherichia coli are a pathotype of Escherichia coli is a cause of acute and chronic diarrhea in both the developed and developing world. They may also cause urinary tract infections. EAEC are defined by their "stacked-brick" pattern of adhesion to the human laryngeal epithelial cell line HEp-2. The pathogenesis of EAEC involves the aggregation of and adherence of the bacteria to the intestinal mucosa, where they elaborate enterotoxins and cytotoxins that damage host cells and induce inflammation that results in diarrhea.

<i>Naegleria fowleri</i> Species of free-living excavate form of protist

Naegleria fowleri, colloquially known as the "brain-eating amoeba", is a species of the genus Naegleria, belonging to the phylum Percolozoa, which is technically not classified as true amoeba, but a shapeshifting amoeboflagellate excavata. It is a free-living, bacteria-eating microorganism that can be pathogenic, causing a fulminant and fatal brain infection called naegleriasis, also known as primary amoebic meningoencephalitis. This microorganism is typically found in bodies of warm freshwater, such as ponds, lakes, rivers, and hot springs. It is also found in the soil near warm-water discharges of industrial plants, and in unchlorinated or minimally-chlorinated swimming pools. It can be seen in either an amoeboid or temporary flagellate stage.


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