Campylobacteriosis is an infectious disease caused by bacteria called Campylobacter. Campylobacter jejuni, C. fetus, and C. coli are the types that usually cause the disease in people. It is transmitted by eating or handling contaminated food or drinking contaminated beverages.

More than 10,000 cases of campylobacteriosis are reported in North America each year. It is estimated that 100 people die of the disease yearly. The disease occurs more frequently in summer than winter.

C. jejuni causes most cases of this foodborne disease. C. jejuni is the leading cause of bacterial diarrheal illness in North America, affecting about 2.4 million people every year. The bacteria cause between 5 and 14 percent of all diarrheal illness worldwide. C. jejuni primarily affects children less than 5 years old and young adults 15 to 29 years old.

You can get infected with Campylobacter from:

  • Handling raw poultry
  • Eating undercooked poultry
  • Drinking nonchlorinated water or raw milk
  • Handling infected human or animal feces

Most frequently, poultry and cattle waste are the sources of the bacteria, but feces from puppies, kittens, and birds also may be contaminated with the bacteria.

If you are infected with Campylobacter, you may have no symptoms. If you do, they can include:

  • Diarrhea (often bloody)
  • Abdominal cramping and pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever
  • Tiredness

Campylobacteriosis usually lasts for 2 to 5 days, but in some cases as long as 10 days.

If you are like most people infected with Campylobacter, you will get better with no special treatment. If you need treatment, your health care provider can prescribe an antibiotic such as ciprofloxacin or azithromycin. Erythromycin helps treat diarrhea caused by Campylobacter. If you have diarrhea, be sure to drink plenty of water.

Complications are rare, however they do occur. Some people with campylobacteriosis have convulsions with fever or meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the spinal cord). Others develop arthritis. A small number of people may develop Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), the leading cause of acute paralysis in North America. This rare condition develops from 2 to 4 weeks after Campylobacter infection and usually after diarrheal symptoms have disappeared. People with GBS suffer from increasing paralysis of the limbs which lasts for several weeks. In more severe cases, they develop breathing problems requiring very long hospital stays.

To avoid becoming infected with campylobacteriosis:

  • Wash hands before preparing food
  • Wash hands immediately after handling raw poultry or other meat
  • Wash thoroughly with soap and hot water all food preparation surfaces and utensils that have come in contact with raw meat
  • Cook poultry products to an internal temperature of 170ºF for breast meat and 180ºF for thigh meat
  • Don’t drink unpasteurized milk
  • Don’t drink unchlorinated water that isn’t boiled
  • Wash hands after handling pet feces or visiting petting zoos