First, the etymology. The English word ‘dysentery’ has its roots in two Greek words meaning “ill” and “intestine”. Dysentery is a general term for a class of gastrointestinal disorders that are characterized by inflammation of the intestines, particularly the colon. Characteristic features of dysentery include abdominal pain and cramps, staining of stools, and frequent passage of watery stools. The watery stools may even contain blood and mucus. Though common, dysentery has potential of turning serious. Mankind has been troubled with dysentery for thousands of years. The earliest references to dysentery occur as early as fifth century B.C. Dysentery was a common occurrence in army camps, walled cities, and other places where large groups of people lived together in close quarters with poor sanitation facilities. As late as eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the number of people dying from dysentery was greater than that dying from injuries received in battle.
As discussed above, dysentery assumes the form of epidemic where density of population is high and people don’t have access to basic civic amenities. It was in 1897 that a bacillus( rod shaped bacterium) came to be identified as the ‘culprit’, i.e. the cause of one major type of dysentery. Today, because of good civic amenities in developed countries, dysentery is a rare occurrence there . However, same is not the case with less developed countries. These countries have poor civic amenities. So dysentery epidemics still occur in these areas. Even people visiting these areas are warned to be cautious as they may fall prey to dysentery. Other class of people who are at risk of dysentery are army personnel stationed in developing countries, frequent travelers, children in crèche, people in hospitals, and gay people.
Good hygiene coupled with little common sense go a long way in avoiding dysentery. If a person is visiting or living in an area with poor sanitation, he should be extra-cautious of
the water he consumes. Even an act looking harmless such as brushing teeth with contaminated water could trigger dysentery. Ice sold commercially is not made from good water and this too can cause dysentery. The only safe beverages are boiled water, canned or bottled sodas, beer, wine, and tea and coffee (made with boiled water). In case it’s not possible to boil water, it should be treated with chemical disinfectants like iodine or chlorine. You need to pay attention to your food too. Food sold by street vendors should be totally avoided . Food that is not cooked , salads, uncooked fruits and vegetables, unpasteurized milk, raw meat, shellfish can lead to dysentery. Those who have infection should protect others around them by washing hands regularly with soap and water, especially after visiting the toilet, changing diapers and before preparing food.
The primary form of treatment for dysentery are medications. Tindamax and Fasigyn are two drugs approved by FDA in 2004. A word of caution here. These drugs should not be given to women in first three months of pregnancy. Also, patients taking tinidazole should abstain from drinking. In cases of dehydration, fluid replacement is to be given.