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Campylobacter

What is campylobacter infection? Campylobacter are bacteria that live in the intestine of animals and birds. Campylobacter bacteria, most commonly Campylobacter jejuni, infect humans. They are the most common cause of infectious diarrhea in both Canada and the United States.

 

 
  • Front page of the Campylobacter Fact SheetCampylobacter Fact Sheet (PDF 90KB)
    View, download and print the Campylobacter Fact Sheet. Campylobacter are bacteria that live in the intestine of animals and birds. Campylobacter bacteria, most commonly Campylobacter jejuni, infect humans. They are the most common cause of infectious diarrhea in both Canada and the United States.
 

What are the symptoms of Campylobacter infection?

Symptoms start two to five days after swallowing the bacteria and can last up to ten days. Some people don’t have any symptoms. Symptoms range from mild to severe and may include:

  • Diarrhea (sometimes bloody)
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache

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Am I at risk?

Anyone can become sick from a Campylobacter infection. Those at greatest risk include:

  • Children under 5 years of age, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems,
  • Workers in poultry processing plants and those who work with animals, and
  • Travelers

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Is there treatment for Campylobacter infection?

Keeping hydrated by drinking lots of liquids (preferably those containing electrolytes) is important. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics, which can be helpful if started within the first few days you are sick.

Please note: Over-the-counter medications to stop the diarrhea are not recommended.

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How do I get Campylobacter infection?

Handling Raw Meat:

Campylobacter is commonly associated with touching or eating raw or undercooked poultry (like chicken). When poultry is slaughtered, bacteria can be transferred from the intestines to the meat. Just one drop of juice from raw poultry can make you sick.

Infection can be caused by cutting poultry meat on a cutting board and then using the unwashed cutting board or utensil to prepare vegetables or other raw and ready-to-eat food. Knowing about safe food handling at home will prevent you from becoming ill.

Person-to-person:

The bacteria are not usually passed from person to person, but it can happen if a person who is at greater risk of infection comes into contact with contaminated feces (poop) of someone with Campylobacter infection.

Drinking unpasteurized milk or untreated water:

Outbreaks have been caused by drinking unpasteurized milk or water containing the Campylobacter bacteria. Well water, lakes, streams and beaches can become contaminated from the feces of animals or wild birds.

Contact with birds and animals:

Animals, including farm animals, puppies and kittens, can carry Campylobacter in their feces, which can get on their fur. Bird feeders can also be a source of Campylobacter bacteria.

Hands can become contaminated after petting an infected animal or cleaning/filling a bird feeder. Infection can happen if the bacteria from your hands are transferred to your mouth.

Travel:

Campylobacter is common in developing countries. Travelers to developing countries may be at risk of Campylobacter infection.

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How do I prevent Campylobacter infection?

Safe food handling, proper hand washing and good personal hygiene are the most important ways to prevent getting and passing on Campylobacter infection.

Safe Food Handling

People who have Campylobacter infection should not prepare food for others because they may contaminate the food and make other people sick.

  • Food handlers and health care workers should go home or stay home if sick, report their symptoms to their manager or supervisor, and see their doctor for stool testing.

Safe Food Handling Practices:

Foods that are contaminated with Campylobacter bacteria do not look or smell bad. Follow tips for safe food handling practices at all times.

Proper Hand Washing

Washing hands often and well is the best prevention.

  • Wash hands immediately after touching raw meat, poultry and raw produce.
  • Wash hands well with soap and warm water before, during and after touching food, after using the toilet, after touching diapers, animals, pet treats and toys, and after playing with or cleaning up after pets.

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Other Considerations:

  • Drink water from a safe supply. Water from untreated lakes and streams or from sources with unknown quality may contain bacteria like Campylobacter. Avoid swallowing water while swimming in lakes and pools.
  • Use only pasteurized milk and foods made from pasteurized milk. Drink pasteurized juice, including apple cider.
  • Make sure your eggs are graded, clean and free of cracks.
  • Keep pets away from food storage and preparation areas.
  • If you have a Campylobacter infection, your local Public Health Unit will be in contact with you to provide counselling and answer any questions you may have. 

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Date of creation: October 30, 2013
Last modified on: March 4, 2016
 

References

1Canadian Food Inspection Agency. (2013). Food safety facts on Campylobacter. Retrieved from
http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/fssa/concen/cause/campye.shtml
2Heymann, D. L. (Ed.). (2015). Control of communicable diseases manual (20th ed.). Washington, DC: American Public Health Association.
3Ontario. Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. Infectious disease protocol. Toronto, ON: Queen's Printer for Ontario; January 2014 available from Retrieved from
http://www.health.gov.on.ca/en/pro/programs/publichealth/oph_standards/docs/campylobacter_chapter.pdf