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CBS2 Exclusive: Shigella Outbreak Strikes Borough Park, Williamsburg

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Children have been sick and highly contagious by an infection caused by the Shigella bacterium, which has been spreading across Brooklyn.

As CBS2's Ilana Gold reported, the bacterial infection has been a particularly big problem in Borough Park and Williamsburg. Eighty cases have been reported since November – most in children – and the number has been growing.

"It's really affecting, you know, people," said Yidel Perlstein of Borough Park. "It's a very troubling situation."

It is personally troubling for Perlstein, as his 8-year-old daughter got the highly contagious bacterial infection just this past Sunday. He said his daughter has been making trips to the bathroom every 15 minutes all night long.

"I've spent many hours in the middle of the night running out of my room to help my daughter," he said.

Perlstein does not know how his daughter got sick, but doctors said students have been spreading the illness in school.

Dr. Olitsa Roth has treated several cases in recent weeks. She said most cases are very mild and might just involve a bellyache, but some may be more severe.

"The message is for parents -- if the child isn't feeling good, be on high alert and check their bowel movement," Roth said.

Shigella attacks in the digestive tract. Symptoms include severe diarrhea, stomach cramps and fever, and the most severe cases involve convulsions and kidney failure.

WEB EXTRA: CDC On Shigella Symptoms And Treatment

Children between the ages of 2 and 4 are at the highest risk.

To spread, the bacterium requires person-to-person contact, or direct contact with human waste or contaminated food or water.

"I have a sister-in-law who has three kids right now who has it, and I've met a lot of other people in the community who came down with it -- one kid, two kids," Perlstein said.

Just a few weeks ago, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene sent an alert to people in the community warning them about the outbreak. Since then, the number of cases has easily doubled.

"Our biggest concern is that we want to prevent the spread," said Vasudha Reddy of the Health Department.

On Wednesday, members of the department met with administrators of yeshiva schools to teach them about prevention.

"Making sure that children who might be going to school who are sick with diarrhea stay home" is the goal, she said.

Department officials fear students have been spreading the bacteria in school, and then affecting their families at home. Doctors said there is a simple solution to it all.

"Remember to always wash hands after using the bathroom, before eating food, and after eating food -- handwashing, handwashing, handwashing," Reddy said.

Officials hope such precautions will put an end to the outbreak.

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