Campylobacteriosis

Condition Basics

What is campylobacteriosis?

Campylobacteriosis is food poisoning caused by the campylobacter bacterium.

Campylobacteriosis occurs much more often in the summer months than in the winter months. Infants, young adults, and males are most likely to get the condition.

What causes it?

Campylobacteriosis is usually caused by handling poultry (such as chicken or turkey) that is contaminated with the campylobacter bacterium and is raw or undercooked. For example, you can be infected by cutting poultry meat on a cutting board and then using the unwashed cutting board or utensil to prepare vegetables or other raw or lightly cooked foods. Drinking contaminated milk or water from contaminated lakes or streams can also result in infection.

Campylobacteriosis usually is not spread from person to person. Some people have become infected through contact with the infected stool of a dog or cat.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of campylobacteriosis include diarrhea, cramping, stomach pain, and fever within 2 to 5 days after exposure to the bacteria. Your diarrhea may be bloody, and you may feel sick to your stomach and vomit. The illness usually lasts 1 week. Some people don't have any symptoms at all. In people with impaired immune systems, campylobacteriosis can be life-threatening.

How is it diagnosed?

Your doctor will do a medical history and a physical exam and ask you questions about your symptoms, foods you have recently eaten, and your work and home environments. A stool culture can confirm the diagnosis.

How is campylobacteriosis treated?

You treat campylobacteriosis by managing any complications until it passes. Dehydration caused by diarrhea and vomiting is the most common complication. Do not use medicines, including antibiotics and other treatments, unless your doctor recommends them. Most people recover completely within a week after symptoms begin, although sometimes recovery can take up to 10 days.

To prevent dehydration, drink plenty of fluids. Choose water and other clear liquids until you feel better. You can take frequent sips of a rehydration drink (such as Pedialyte). Soda, fruit juices, and sports drinks have too much sugar and not enough of the important electrolytes that are lost during diarrhea. These kinds of drinks should not be used to rehydrate.

When you feel like eating again, start with small amounts of food.

In more severe cases, your doctor may recommend antibiotics.

In rare cases, long-term problems can result from campylobacteriosis. Some people may have arthritis following campylobacteriosis. Others may develop a rare disease called Guillain-Barré syndrome. This occurs when your immune system attacks your nerves, which can lead to paralysis that lasts several weeks and usually requires that you go to a hospital.

How can you prevent it?

You can prevent campylobacteriosis by practicing safe food handling.

  • Shop safely. Bag raw meat, poultry, and fish separately from other food items. Young children can get sick from touching packaged poultry, so don't allow them to touch or play with packages of poultry in your grocery cart. Drive home immediately after finishing your shopping so that you can store foods properly.
  • Prepare foods safely. Wash your hands before and after handling food. Also wash them after using the bathroom or changing diapers. Wash fresh fruits and vegetables by rinsing them well with running water. If possible, use two cutting boards—one for fresh produce and the other for raw meat, poultry, and seafood. Otherwise, be sure to wash the cutting board with hot, soapy water between each use. You can also wash your knives and cutting boards in the dishwasher to disinfect them.
  • Store foods safely. Cook, refrigerate, or freeze meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and ready-to-eat foods within 2 hours. Make sure your refrigerator is set at 40°F (4°C) or colder.
  • Cook foods safely. Use a clean meat thermometer to determine whether foods are cooked to a safe temperature. Reheat leftovers to at least 165°F (74°C). Do not eat undercooked hamburger. And be aware of the risk of food poisoning from raw fish (including sushi), clams, and oysters.
  • Serve foods safely. Keep cooked hot foods hot [ 140°F (60°C) or above] and cold foods cold [ 40°F (4°C) or below].
  • Follow labels on food packaging. Food packaging labels provide information about when to use the food and how to store it. Reading food labels and following safety instructions will reduce your chances of becoming ill with food poisoning.
  • When in doubt, throw it out. If you are not sure whether a food is safe, don't eat it. Reheating food that is contaminated will not make it safe. Don't taste suspicious food. It may smell and look fine but still may not be safe to eat.

It is important to pay particular attention to food preparation and storage during warm months when food is often served outside. Bacteria grow faster in warmer weather, so food can spoil more quickly and possibly cause illness. Do not leave food outdoors for more than 1 hour if the temperature is above 90°F (32°C), and never leave it outdoors for more than 2 hours.

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