Understanding Campylobacter Infection

Campylobacter is a type of bacteria that lives in the digestive tract of many animals. These include cows, pigs, and poultry. If you are exposed to the bacteria, you may get sick. The infection is usually spread through contaminated food, such as undercooked meat.  It is often the cause of traveler’s diarrhea.

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What causes Campylobacter infection?

You can get the bacteria by eating raw or undercooked meat, such as poultry. You may also get sick from it if you drink water or unpasteurized milk that has been contaminated with the bacteria. People who have close contact with infected animals are also at risk.

You can lower your chances of being infected with this bacteria by handling food safely. Wash your hands well before and after handling raw meat or chicken. Also clean cutting boards, utensils, and counters with soap and hot water. This helps keep you from contaminating one food with another. Always cook poultry and meats thoroughly.  Always wash your hands well after using the bathroom.

What are the symptoms of Campylobacter infection?

Not all people infected have symptoms. People who do often get ill 2 to 4 days after exposure. Symptoms may last up to a week. They include:

  • Stomachache and cramping

  • Diarrhea, which may be bloody

  • Feeling unwell

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Fever

  • Headache

  • Muscle pain

Often the fever, chills, and weakness begin 2 to 3 days before abdominal cramps or diarrhea start.

Symptoms tend to be worse in older adults, young children, and pregnant women. They can also be more severe in people who have health problems that affect the immune system. These include HIV.

How is Campylobacter infection treated?

Treatment includes:

  • Rest. You may feel better faster if you get plenty of rest.

  • Fluids. Drinking lots of fluids will help you stay hydrated.  Don’t have alcohol or drinks with caffeine.

  • Medicine. You usually do not need antibiotics. You may need them if you have a severe case, or if you are at high risk for complications.

What are the complications of Campylobacter infection?

  • Irritable bowel syndrome. This is a condition of alternating diarrhea and constipation. This is not a common complication.

  • Joint pain (arthritis). This often develops many days or a few weeks after the fever and diarrhea have improved.

  • Guillain-Barre syndrome. This disease causes severe muscle weakness or paralysis. It is a very rare complication.

When should I call my healthcare provider?

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed

  • Abdominal pain that gets worse after 1 to 2 days

  • Chills or fever that continues to get worse after 1 to 2 days

  • Bloody stool

  • Confusion or severe weakness