Campylobacteriosis is a gastrointestinal disease caused by a type of bacteria called Campylobacter. Illness usually occurs 2 to 5 days after exposure to Campylobacter and lasts about a week. The illness is usually mild and some people with campylobacteriosis have no symptoms at all. However, in some persons with compromised immune systems, it can cause a serious, life-threatening infection. The diagnosis is usually made when a laboratory finds Campylobacter in the stool of an infected person.
Symptoms of campylobacteriosis include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever. Most people with campylobacteriosis recover completely. However, a small percentage of people may have joint pain and swelling after infection. In addition, a rare disease called Guillain-Barre syndrome that causes weakness and paralysis can occur several weeks after the initial illness.
Campylobacteriosis is most commonly associated with eating raw or undercooked poultry. Chickens are frequently infected with Campylobacter although they show no symptoms. Past studies have shown that over half of the raw chicken sold in stores in the United States have Campylobacter on it. Cross-contamination with Campylobacter can sometimes occur when raw poultry is sliced on a cutting board, and the unwashed board or knife is then used to prepare vegetables or other lightly cooked foods. Eating anything contaminated with Campylobacter can result in illness. Animals can be infected by Campylobacter.
Outbreaks of campylobacteriosis have occurred when people have drunk surface water that has been contaminated by infected birds or cows. Additionally, people have become ill from contact with infected dogs and cats, and from drinking or eating products made with unpasteurized milk from infected cows.
Most people with campylobacteriosis recover fully without any antibiotics. However, it is important to drink enough fluids to prevent dehydration. Antibiotics should be reserved for very severe cases. People with diarrhea (especially children in day care or people who handle food) should not go to school, day care or work until the diarrhea ends, in order to prevent spreading campylobacteriosis to other people.
What can a person do to prevent campylobacteriosis?
- Thoroughly cook all meats, especially poultry (to an internal temperature of 170°F for breast meat and 180°F for thigh meat). If you are served undercooked poultry in a restaurant, send it back for further cooking.
- Make sure that other foods, such as fruits or vegetables, do not come into contact with cutting boards or knives that have been used with raw meat or poultry. To avoid cross-contamination, carefully clean all cutting boards, countertops, and utensils with soap and hot water after preparing raw meat or poultry.
- Wash hands before preparing food and immediately after handling any raw poultry or meat.
- Always refrigerate meat products. Never leave raw meat at room temperature.
- Avoid drinking unpasteurized milk and untreated (not chlorinated or boiled) surface water.
- Wash hands well with soap and water after using the bathroom, changing diapers, or handling pets, including animals at petting zoos. Make sure children also wash their hands well after going to the bathroom or handling pets.