More and more Coastal Bend residents have been coming down with cases of a stomach ailment called shigellosis, and county health officials say the number of reported cases is significant.

Shigellosis is a bacterial infection that can lead to serious diarrhea, and experts say the symptoms are generally tougher on children.

The Nueces County Health Department said that, in a normal year, they would have had six-eight cases reported by this time; but the number so far this year is up to 154. That number could be seriously underreported because many people, especially adults, tend to tough out the illness, which generally lasts less than a week.

The disease is harder on children, and the number of cases being treated at Driscoll Children's Hospital has reached 180. City-County Health Director William Burgin said even a fly landing on a child's hand can spread the illness.

"If you have diarrhea, stay home. Don't go to work. Don't spread it around," Burgin said. "And if you have high fever and you think you've got a bad case of shigellosis, please see your doctor. He can give you medication that will make the illness much shorter."

Symptoms of the infectious disease include diarrhea, fever, nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps. Children under two years of age can often have seizures.

Doctors say there is an antibiotic treatment for the shigellosis, and frequent hand washing is the most effective method of prevention.

Burgin said it is easy to confuse salmonella poisoning with the shigella bacteria, and only a doctor will know for sure.