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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 often spread through contaminated food, such as undercooked meat. It can be a 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 with soap and clean, running water (warm or cold) for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw meat or chicken. Also clean cutting boards, utensils, and counters with hot, soapy water and a disinfectant after each use. Follow by rinsing these surfaces with clean 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 who are 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

  • Belly (abdominal) cramps

  • Diarrhea, which may be bloody

  • Feeling unwell

  • Upset stomach (nausea)

  • Vomiting

  • Fever

  • Headache

  • Muscle pain

Often the fever, chills, and weakness begin 2 to 3 days before belly 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 people living with HIV infection.

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 don't need antibiotics. You may need them if you have a severe case, you have a weak immune system, or you are at high risk for complications.

What are possible complications of Campylobacter infection?

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

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

  • 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 by your provider

  • Belly pain that gets worse after 1 to 2 days

  • Chills or fever that keeps getting worse after 1 to 2 days

  • Bloody stool

  • Confusion

  • Severe weakness

Online Medical Reviewer: Barry Zingman MD
Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2021
© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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