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Dysentery (formerly known as flux or the bloody flux) is frequent, small-volume, severe diarrhea that shows blood in the feces along with intestinal cramping and tenesmus (painful straining to pass stool).[1] Additional symptoms frequently associated with dysentery include fever and malaise.



Dysentery has many causes, including cancer, but is typically associated with infection caused by the ingestion of food or water containing micro-organisms which cause significant inflammation of the intestinal lining. There are two major types of dysentery due to micro-organisms: shigellosis and amoebic dysentery. Dysentery can also be caused by certain medications, for example, some steroids can impact bowel movements.


Shigellosis is caused by one of several types of Shigella bacteria. Kiyoshi Shiga discovered the dysentery bacteria in 1898.

Main article: Shigellosis

Amoebic dysentery

Amoebic dysentery (or amebic dysentery) is caused by the amoeba Entamoeba histolytica.

Amoebic dysentery is transmitted through contaminated food and water. Dysentery can also be spread by contaminated hands, from toddlers, because of their poor hygiene and close contact with other toddlers. From ingestion, the infecting organisms move into the intestines via the stomach. Amoebae spread by forming infective cysts which can be found in stools and spread if whoever touches them does not sanitize their hands. There are also free amoebae, or trophozoites, that do not form cysts.

Amoebic dysentery is well known as a "traveler's dysentery" because of its prevalence in developing nations, or "Montezuma's Revenge" although it is occasionally seen in industrialized countries. Liver infection, and subsequent amoebic abscesses can occur. It is caused mainly by the protozoan Entamoeba histolytica. Amoebic dysentery can be treated with metronidazole.

Symptoms and complications

Symptoms include frequent passage of faeces/stool, loose motion and in some cases associated vomiting. Variations depending on parasites can be frequent urge with high or low volume of stool, with or without some associated mucus and even blood.

A long term complication of amoebic dysentery is lactose intolerance to dairy products, which usually lasts a few weeks but occasionally may be permanent.


A required combination of drugs includes an amoebicidal drug to kill the parasite, an antibiotic to treat any associated bacterial infection, and a drug to combat infection of the liver and other tissues. The amoeba can damage the villi and inhibit lactase production (for which there is no permanent treatment). Lactase can be taken orally to assist dairy absorption.

See also

Cultural significance

Dysentery was the cause of death of:

  • Gautama Buddha, Founder of Buddhism (500 B.C.E.)
  • Epicurus, the Greek philosopher (270 B.C.)
  • Liu Bei, first emperor of the kingdom Shu Han (223)
  • King Louis VI of France (1137)
  • Henry the Young King of England (1183)
  • King John of England (1216)
  • King Louis VIII of France (1226)
  • King Louis IX of France (1270)
  • King Rudolph I of Bohemia (1307)
  • Edward, the Black Prince, English royal and military leader (1376)
  • King Henry V of England (1422)
  • Hernando Cortes, Spanish explorer (1547)
  • Sir Francis Drake (1596)
  • King James of England, Scotland, and Wales (1625)
  • Maria Celeste, first daughter of Galileo Galilei (1634)
  • Nathaniel Bacon (1676)
  • Vincenzo Bellini, the composer (1835)
  • Juana Maria, "The Lone Woman of San Nicolas" (1853)
  • Many of the captured soldiers at Andersonville Prison during the American Civil War (1860–5)
  • David Livingstone, (1873)
  • Texas Guinan, (1933), vaudeville star and silent film actress
  • Many victims of concentration camps in World War II. Some Allied POWs also fell victim to dysentery while imprisoned by the Japanese Empire, especially those involved in the construction of what has become known as the Death Railway.
  • The father of Elie Wiesel as depicted in his autobiography, Night (1945)
  • Richard Wright, (1960), African American writer
  • Fictionally, many Oregon Trail characters

Miscellaneous references

  • O. Uplavici was the fictional author of the article About dysentery whose name persisted in science literature for fifty years.
  • Additionally, dying of dysentery has become a pop culture reference to the 1980s computer game, The Oregon Trail. The disease was one of several afflictions the player could die from, prompting the phrase, "You have died of dysentery."
  • Lars Eighner writes about experiencing dysentery at least once a month during the time he lived as a homeless man Dumpster diving.
  • The band blink-182 has a song called "Dysentery Gary" in which diarrhea is mentioned.
  • In the Woody Allen movie Annie Hall, Allen's character jokes that two leading intellectual magazines, Dissent and Commentary, had merged to form Dysentery. An oblique reference to intellectual pretense.
  • In the movie Pulp Fiction, Captain Koons played by Christopher Walken informs a young Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) that his father had died from Dysentery after concealing a wrist watch inside of his anus for five years.
  • Harrison Ford apparently suffered from it while filming Raiders of the Lost Ark in Tunisia; this partially resulted in his suggesting that rather than have an elaborate fight with an assassin, Indiana Jones should just shoot him - a now famous gag in the movie.
  • In the video game Gears of War for the Xbox 360, the character Baird says "This poo will give me dysentery!" referring to the food of the stranded people.
  • In the film Mrs. Doubtfire, Robin Williams jokes that it would terrible if his ex-wife came down with amoebic dysentery, leading to a gross and vague description of the illness by his son.
  • In the book On the Road, the main character Sal Paradise suffers from dysentery at the end of his time in Mexico.


  1. ^ Ryan KJ, Ray CG (editors) (2004). Sherris Medical Microbiology, 4th ed., McGraw Hill, pp. 361, 858. ISBN 0838585299. 
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Dysentery". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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