More than one million people develop a Campylobacter infection in the U.S. each year. Common causes include raw or undercook foods, contaminated water and produce and untreated water and unpasteurized dairy products. Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, fever, headache and stomach cramps. Illness lasts about a week and usually doesn't require treatment.
Campylobacter infection is a type of stomach flu (gastroenteritis). Some people call it food poisoning. The most common symptoms are diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramping and fever.
This foodborne illness starts after someone eats or drinks something that has Campylobacter bacteria in it. If you take in enough bacteria, you may become infected. Usually, symptoms show up one to seven days after coming into contact with the bacteria.
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Researchers don’t know exactly how many people have it each year. That’s because most people don’t go to the doctor for food poisoning, such as Campylobacter infections. Healthcare providers diagnose Campylobacteriosis in about 20 out of every 100,000 people yearly. However, some estimates put the number of Campylobacter infections at more than 1.5 million every year. This is one of the most common foodborne illnesses in the U.S.
A Campylobacter infection starts after someone eats or drinks something with the bacteria. Uncooked or undercooked food can lead to an infection. Some common foods that can have Campylobacter are:
You can also get the bacteria from accidentally touching the waste (poop) of an infected animal. Cats and dogs can both carry Campylobacter. And some people have gotten infected after handling puppies for sale at a pet store. Always make sure you wash your hands after cleaning up after an infected pet or handling unfamiliar animals.
Older people and the very young have the highest infection risk. Also, people with weaker immune systems can more easily get infected. Weakened immune systems can come from cancer treatment, immunodeficient states, being a smoker or drinking a lot of alcohol.
A Campylobacter infection has symptoms that you would expect with so-called stomach flu (which is not the same as influenza, a respiratory illness). You may have:
Not everyone will get sick. Those who do get sick usually start feeling ill one to seven days after infection. Symptoms last about one week.
The most common test to detect a Campylobacter infection uses a stool sample. Your healthcare provider sends a sample of your poop to the lab, where technicians test it for the bacteria.
In extremely rare cases, the bacteria can get into your blood. If this happens, it can cause a life-threatening infection. Your healthcare provider will order a blood test to check if this has happened.
For most cases of food poisoning, there is no specific treatment. The illness will run its course in about a week. If your healthcare provider can confirm a Campylobacter infection, antibiotics may be prescribed to help speed up recovery.
Your healthcare provider will recommend drinking more fluids because diarrhea and vomiting can both cause dehydration. Also, make sure you replenish electrolytes — essential minerals, such as sodium, calcium and potassium. A sports drink can help with electrolytes.
Most people don’t have complications with Campylobacter infections. But there are some risks. Some rare complications include:
You can avoid getting food poisoning from Campylobacter with a bit of precaution. To avoid getting sick, wash your hands:
You should disinfect toilets after use by someone who has diarrhea. If you have diarrhea, you should wash your hands frequently with warm, soapy water.
When it comes to food safety, always wash your hands before handling food and after handling raw food. These tips also help:
Campylobacter infections are very contagious, meaning you can get an infection easily. However, most people who get sick from it will feel better in about a week.
If your immune system is weak from diseases or chemotherapy, you may want to talk to a healthcare provider if you are concerned about Campylobacter or if you have a diarrheal illness.
You should see your healthcare provider if you have not started feeling better after a few days. Elderly adults and young children should see a healthcare provider if they have symptoms of stomach flu. The very young and old can get sick from the bacteria, and they have to watch out for dehydration, too.
If you or a loved one becomes dehydrated, see a healthcare provider as soon as possible. You might need intravenous (IV) fluids.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
No one likes getting sick, but sometimes, food poisoning happens. Fortunately, most people feel better after a few days. Some rest and plenty of liquids will help. If you don’t feel like you’re getting better, see your healthcare provider.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/18/2021.
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