Campylobacter is a bacterium that causes the infectious disease Campylobacteriosis. This infection causes diarrhea, vomiting, fever and cramping. It is usually passed through contaminated food and water. It typically affects people with lower immune systems--the very young or the elderly. Campylobacteriosis is one of the leading causes of food-borne illnesses and diarrhea. If the bacterium travels to the bloodstream, it can become life threatening.

What causes Campylobacter infection?

Campylobacter is a bacterium found in the intestines of animals. It is mainly found in chickens, cattle, and household animals such as cats and dogs. It is passed through the feces. Animals or humans can become infected through contact with the feces. When an infected animal is slaughtered, it can carry Campylobacter bacterium. If the meat of the infected animal (especially chicken) is not all the way cooked, it can infect the person who eats it.

Coming into contact with a person’s infected feces; especially those of children in diapers, can lead to infection. Contact with the feces of household animals, like cats and dogs, may also result in an infection.

It also is possible that water sources and unpasteurized milk can become contaminated by the bacterium and cause campylobacter infection.

What are the symptoms of Campylobacter infection?

Symptoms of a Campylobacter infection usually appear 1 to 7 days after contact with the bacteria. Symptoms include:

Symptoms can last for about a week. In some people there are no signs of symptoms at all.

What are the complications of Campylobacter infection?

Most people recover from a Campylobacter infection within a week. Complications are rare with this infection, but there still are some risks. Some people may develop arthritis as a complication of the infection. The infection may cause an autoimmune disorder--Guillain-Barré syndrome--that causes paralysis and other complications. Death as a result of Campylobacter is very rare. It most often occurs in the very old or very young, or in people who suffer from other serious illnesses like AIDS.

How do you prevent Campylobacter infection?

  • Wash hands before handling food
  • Wash hands after handling raw food
  • Avoid cross-contamination by using separate cutting boards for meat and vegetables
  • Clean utensils and countertops with hot soapy water after contact with raw meat
  • Cook meat (especially chicken) thoroughly until there is no more pink
  • Send chicken back at a restaurant if it is still pink
  • Drink water that has been tested and approved for purity (especially in developing countries)
  • Avoid drinking water from streams, especially those that pass through areas where animals reside
  • Do not drink unpasteurized milk
  • Persons with diarrhea should wash their hands frequently with hot, soapy water
  • Disinfect toilets after use by someone who has diarrhea

How is Campylobacter infection diagnosed?

Your doctor will take a stool sample and send it to the lab for further testing. If your doctor thinks that the bacterium has entered your blood system, a blood sample may be taken.

How is Campylobacter infection treated?

Generally, there is no specific treatment for a Campylobacter infection. Dehydration may occur because of diarrhea. It is important to drink a lot of fluids and take in electrolytes to prevent dehydration. Diarrhea should go away within 2 to 5 days. Antibiotics azithromycin or erythromycin may reduce symptoms if the infection is caught early.


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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 7/20/2013…#15251