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Campylobacter enteritis

What Is Campylobacter enteritis?

Campylobacteriosis is an infectious disease caused by bacteria of the genus Campylobacter. Most people who become ill with campylobacteriosis get diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and fever within two to five days after exposure to the organism. The diarrhea may be bloody and can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. The illness usually lasts about a week.

What are the symptoms?

Most people who become ill with campylobacteriosis get diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and fever within 2 to 5 days after exposure to the organism. The illness typically lasts 7 days, but occasionally symptoms persist for as long as 10 days. Some persons who are infected with Campylobacter don't have any symptoms at all.

Rarely, Campylobacter infection results in long-term consequences. Some people develop arthritis. Others may develop a rare disease called Guillain-Barré syndrome that affects the nerves of the body beginning several weeks after the diarrheal illness. This occurs when a person's immune system is "triggered" to attack the body's own nerves resulting in paralysis that lasts several weeks.

How is Campylobacter enteritis treated?

Almost all persons infected with Campylobacter recover without any specific treatment. Patients should drink extra fluids as long as the diarrhea lasts. Patients should eat a bland diet. In more severe cases, medicine for nausea is prescribed; and antibiotics such as azithromycin or erythromycin can shorten the duration of symptoms if given early in the illness.

How do people catch this disease?

Campylobacteriosis usually occurs in single, sporadic cases, but it can also occur in outbreaks, when a number of people become ill at one time. Most cases of campylobacteriosis are associated with eating raw or undercooked poultry meat or from cross-contamination of other foods by these items. Infants may get the infection by contact with poultry packages in shopping carts.

Outbreaks of Campylobacter are usually associated with unpasteurized milk or contaminated water. Animals can also be infected, and some people have acquired their infection from contact with the stool of an ill dog or cat. The organism is not usually spread from one person to another, but this can happen if the infected person is producing a large volume of diarrhea.

A very small number of Campylobacter organisms can cause illness in humans. One way to become infected is to cut poultry meat on a cutting board, and then use the unwashed cutting board or utensil to prepare vegetables or other raw or lightly cooked foods. The Campylobacter organisms from the raw meat can thus spread to the other foods.

What can be done to stop the spread of this disease?

Be sure to cook all poultry so that the meat is no longer pink and any juices run clear. If you are served undercooked poultry in a restaurant, send it back to be cooked completely.

You should wash your hands with soap before and after handling raw meats. Prevent cross-contamination in the kitchen by using separate cutting boards for foods of animal origin and other foods. Be sure to clean all cutting boards, countertops and utensils with soap and hot water after preparing meat. Don’t drink unpasteurized milk or untreated water.

Make sure that persons with diarrhea, especially children, wash their hands carefully and frequently with soap to reduce the risk of spreading the infection.

Wash hands with soap after having contact with pet feces.