Campylobacteriosis

Last Reviewed: September 2016

What is campylobacteriosis?

Campylobacteriosis is an infection that causes diarrhea (loose stool/poop) and is the most common cause of bacterial diarrhea in New York State. The majority of cases are seen in the summer months and occur as single cases. Outbreaks (when two or more people become ill from the same source) are uncommon.

Who gets campylobacteriosis?

Anyone can get campylobacteriosis. It is one of the most common illnesses that cause diarrhea (loose stool/poop) in the United States; making about 1.3 million people sick every year. The infection is found more often in infants and young adults than other age groups and more often in males than females.

How is campylobacteriosis spread?

People can become ill with campylobacteriosis by eating contaminated food, drinking contaminated water, or having contact with infected animals. Eating undercooked poultry, meat, or eggs, or cross contamination of foods, such as using the same cutting board or utensils for raw poultry or meat and vegetables without washing, are common ways to be infected. Even one drop of juice from raw poultry or meat can have enough Campylobacter in it to infect a person. In addition, people can be infected by drinking raw (unpasteurized) milk which may contain Campylobacter.

Animals can also be infected. Some people get infected from contact with the feces (poop) of an ill dog or cat. Many chicken flocks are infected with Campylobacter but individual birds show no signs of illness. When an infected bird is slaughtered, Campylobacter can be transferred from the bird's intestines to its meat.

Campylobacter is not usually spread from one person to another, but this can happen if the infected person does not thoroughly wash their hands after using the bathroom. Infected people will continue to pass the bacteria in their feces for a few days to a week or more. Certain antibiotics may shorten the amount of time the bacteria stays in the body.

What are the symptoms of campylobacteriosis and when do they appear?

Most people who become ill with campylobacteriosis get diarrhea (loose stool/poop) which may be bloody, cramping, abdominal pain, and fever within two to five days after exposure to the bacteria. Nausea (a feeling of sickness in the stomach) and vomiting may also occur. The illness typically lasts about one week. In people with weakened immune systems (such as those with cancer, HIV/AIDS, or a transplant), the bacteria may spread to the bloodstream and cause a serious life-threatening infection.

What are complications associated with the disease?

Complications are rare but can occur. Some people may develop arthritis. Others may develop a rare disease called Guillain-Barre syndrome where the body's immune system starts to damage nerves in the body causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis, beginning several weeks after the person becomes ill.

How is campylobacteriosis diagnosed?

Campylobacteriosis is diagnosed when Campylobacter bacteria are found in a stool sample.

Do infected people need to be isolated or excluded from work or school?

Since the bacteria is passed in the feces (poop), only people with diarrhea (loose stool/poop) should be isolated. Most infected people may return to work or school when their feces become solid. People with diarrhea should be excluded from childcare, food handling and direct patient care until their symptoms have resolved.

What is the treatment for campylobacteriosis?

Most people with campylobacteriosis will recover on their own. People with campylobacteriosis should drink extra fluids to prevent dehydration (loss of water in the body causing weakness or dizziness) as long as the diarrhea lasts. Antibiotics are occasionally used to treat severe cases or people who are at high risk for severe disease, such as those with weakened immune systems (for example people with cancer, HIV/AIDS, or a transplant).

How can campylobacteriosis be prevented?

  • Always handle raw poultry (chicken, turkey, duck, etc.), beef, and pork as if they are contaminated:
    • Wrap fresh poultry and meats in plastic bags at the market to prevent blood and juices from dripping on other foods.
    • Refrigerate foods right away; avoid keeping food at room temperature.
    • Cutting boards and counters used for raw poultry and meat products should be washed immediately after use to prevent cross contamination with other foods.
    • Avoid eating raw or undercooked poultry or meats.
    • Ensure that the correct internal cooking temperature is reached, particularly when using a microwave. Consult www.foodsafety.gov for proper food temperatures (https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/mintemp.html).
    • Wash hands with soap and water after handling raw poultry or meat products.
  • Avoid eating raw eggs or undercooking foods containing raw eggs.
  • Avoid consuming raw (unpasteurized) milk or milk products.
  • Encourage careful handwashing with soap and water before and after food preparation.
  • Make sure children, particularly those who handle pets, wash their hands carefully with soap and water.
  • Wash hands with soap and water after using the bathroom or handling soiled diapers.