Campylobacter poisoning & Foodborne Pathogens

Campylobacteriosis is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Campylobacter. The illness is most typically characterized by diarrhea (often bloody), cramping, abdominal pain, and fever.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), estimates that Campylobacter affects approximately 2.4 million people in the United States each year, making it one of the most common bacterial cause of diarrheal illness in this country. The species Campylobacter jejuni is responsible for most cases.

What are the symptoms of Campylobacter infection?

Camplobacter food poisoning symptoms may include diarrhea (often bloody), cramping, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, headache, muscle pain, and fever within 2-5 days after being exposed to Campylobacter. The illness typically lasts for one week, although recovery can take up to 10 days.

How are Campylobacter infections caused?

Campylobacteriosis is most typically contracted by the improper handling of raw poultry or the consumption of raw or undercooked poultry. Non-pasteurized milk, undercooked meats, contaminated water, or infected household pets can also serve as a source of Campylobacter infection in humans. Campylobacteriosis cases usually occur as single, or sporadic events. Although less common, outbreaks affecting large numbers of people are usually associated with the consumption of non-pasteurized milk.

How is Campylobacter infection diagnosed and treated?

Diagnosis of Campylobacter requires a stool culture, which your doctor may need to specifically request. By culturing a stool sample from an ill person, the bacterial cause of the illness may be determined.

According to the CDC, virtually all individuals infected with Campylobacter will recover without any specific treatment. Patients should drink plenty of fluids as long as diarrhea lasts. In more severe cases, antibiotics, such as erythromycin or a fluoroquinolone, can be used. Early antibiotic therapy can shorten the duration of symptoms.

Your doctor will make the decision about whether antibiotics are necessary.

Are there complications with Campylobacter infections?

While most people will recover within a week, there are an estimated 100 deaths due to Campylobacter food poisoning infections each year.

Long-term complications of Campylobacter infection can include arthritis and Guillain-BarrĂ© Syndrome, a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system. Beginning several weeks after the diarrheal illness, Guillain-Barre Syndrome can cause temporary paralysis and usually requires intensive care. It is estimated that approximately one in every 1,000 reported Campylobacteriosis cases leads to Guillain-BarrĂ© Syndrome.

How can Campylobacter infection be prevented?

Proper food handling practices and good hand-washing practices can significantly lower your risk of contracting foodborne pathogen – Campylobacter. The following precautions can help reduce the risk of infection:

  • Cook poultry and poultry products thoroughly (until no longer pink, and juices run clear). Breast meat should be cooked to a temperature of at least 170 degrees Fahrenheit, and thigh meat cooked to 180 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Wash hands with soap and water both before and after handling raw foods of animal origin.
  • Clean all cutting boards, countertops, and utensils with soap and hot water after preparing raw food of animal origin. Avoid using the same utensils and cutting boards for meats and other foods.
  • Avoid consuming non-pasteurized milk or untreated water.
  • Wash hands with soap and water after having contact with pet or animal feces.

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The information contained on this page has been gathered from the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and other sources in the public domain.

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