Campylobacter bacteria are one of the main causes of diarrhea and foodborne
illness ("food poisoning").
They can infect the gastrointestinal tract and cause diarrhea, fever, and cramps.
and food safety habits
will help prevent Campylobacter infections (or campylobacteriosis),
which usually clear up on their own but sometimes are treated with antibiotics.
What Causes Campylobacter Infections?
Campylobacter (kam-pih-loh-BAK-tur) bacteria live in the intestines of
many wild and domestic animals. They can pass to humans when animal feces (poop) contaminate
food, meats (especially chicken), water (streams or rivers near where animals graze),
and unpasteurized (raw) milk.
Once inside the human digestive system, Campylobacter infect and attack
the lining of the small and large intestines. The bacteria also can affect other parts
of the body. In some cases — particularly in very young kids and those with
chronic illnesses or a weak immune
system — they can get into the bloodstream (this is called bacteremia).
Are Campylobacter Infections Contagious?
Yes. Campylobacteriosis can spread from person to person when someone comes into
contact with fecal matter (poop) from an infected person (especially a child in diapers).
Household pets can carry and spread the bacteria to people.
Who Gets Campylobacter Infections?
More than 2 million people get a Campylobacter infection each year,
with babies younger than 1 year old, teens, and young adults most commonly affected.
What Are the Symptoms of Campylobacter Infections?
Symptoms usually start 1 to 7 days after someone ingests the bacteria. The main
The diarrhea is watery at first, but later may contain blood and mucus. Sometimes,
the abdominal pain seems worse than the diarrhea. When this happens, the infection
may be mistaken for appendicitis
or a problem with the pancreas.
What Problems Can Campylobacter Infections Cause?
Diarrhea can lead to dehydration,
so kids with an infection should be watched closely. Signs of dehydration include
thirst, irritability, restlessness, dizziness or drowsiness, sunken eyes, a dry or
sticky mouth, dry skin, peeing less than usual, and in infants a dry diaper for more
than 4–6 hours.
In a few cases, campylobacteriosis can lead to reactive arthritis (a type of joint
inflammation) or, rarely, Guillain-Barré
syndrome (an uncommon autoimmune disorder).
How Are Campylobacter Infections Diagnosed?
Doctors may send a stool
sample to the lab to be tested for Campylobacter bacteria. They might
order other lab tests, especially if there's blood in the stool. If needed, a blood
test can confirm bacteremia.
How Are Campylobacter Infections Treated?
Most kids with Campylobacter infection will recover without needing medicine.
Sometimes, doctors prescribe antibiotics, especially for very young children or when
symptoms are severe or lasting. Kids should take
the antibiotics on schedule for as long as the doctor directed to make sure the infection
is gone. Do not use nonprescription medicines for diarrhea without a doctor's OK.
After seeing a doctor, most kids with Campylobacter infections can recover
at home, especially if they aren't dehydrated. They should drink plenty of fluids
for as long as the diarrhea lasts and be watched for signs of dehydration.
Kids with mild diarrhea and no dehydration should continue to eat normally and
drink lots of fluids. Fruit juices and soft drinks can make diarrhea worse, though,
and should be avoided. If your child is dehydrated, your doctor may recommend using
an oral rehydration solution. Breastfed babies who get campylobacteriosis should continue
to be breastfed throughout the illness.
Diarrhea usually stops within 2 to 5 days. Full recovery usually takes about 1
week. Sometimes, diarrhea can last longer or stop and then come back.
Can Campylobacter Infections Be Prevented?
To avoid Campylobacter infection, use drinking water that has been tested
and approved for purity (especially in developing countries) and buy only pasteurized
milk and juices. While hiking and camping, don't drink water from streams or from
sources that pass through land where animals graze.
Wash your hands well before you prepare foods and after touching raw meats, especially
poultry. Kill any bacteria in meats and eggs by cooking them thoroughly and eating
while still warm. Refrigerate leftovers promptly. Wash cutting boards, countertops,
and utensils with soap and hot water after contact with raw meat. Clean produce
— especially leafy greens — before serving.
When caring for a family member who has diarrhea, wash your hands well and often,
especially before touching other people and before eating or preparing food. Clean
and disinfect toilets after the person with diarrhea uses them. Also, if a pet dog
or cat has diarrhea, wash your hands often and check with your veterinarian about
When Should I Call the Doctor?
Call your doctor if your child:
has diarrhea streaked with blood
shows any signs of dehydration
has abdominal pain
has a high fever
feels weak or has trouble walking
With rest and home care, most kids with a Campylobacter infection quickly
make a full recovery.