People can be infected when they consume contaminated food or drink or have contact with infected people or animals.
These infections cause diarrhea, abdominal pain, and fever.
Identifying the bacteria in a stool sample confirms the diagnosis.
For some people, replacing lost fluids is all that is needed, but if symptoms are severe, antibiotics are also needed.
(See also Overview of Bacteria Overview of Bacteria Bacteria are microscopic, single-celled organisms. They are among the earliest known life forms on earth. There are thousands of different kinds of bacteria, and they live in every conceivable... read more .)
Campylobacter bacteria normally inhabit the digestive tract of many farm animals (including cattle, sheep, pigs, and fowl). The feces of these animals may contaminate water in lakes and streams. Meat (usually poultry) and unpasteurized milk may also be contaminated. People may be infected in several ways:
Eating or drinking contaminated (untreated) water, unpasteurized raw milk, undercooked meat (usually poultry), or food prepared on kitchen surfaces touched by contaminated meat
Contact with contaminated food or water (for example, when handling contaminated food)
Contact with an infected person (through contamination of food with fecal material or sexual contact)
Contact with an infected animal (such as a puppy)
Campylobacter bacteria, usually Campylobacter jejuni, cause inflammation of the colon (colitis) that results in fever and diarrhea. These bacteria are a common cause of infectious diarrhea in the United States and among people who travel to countries where food or water may be contaminated.
Campylobacter jejuni affects healthy and ill people and causes diarrhea in all age groups. It seems to mostly affect children 1 to 5 years of age.
Symptoms of Campylobacter Infections
Campylobacter symptoms usually develop 2 to 5 days after exposure and continue for about 1 week. Symptoms of Campylobacter colitis include diarrhea, abdominal pain, and cramps, which may be severe. The diarrhea may be watery and sometimes bloody and can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, headache, muscle aches, and fever ranging from 100 to 104° F (38 to 40° C).
Complications of Campylobacter infection can include
Bacteremia occurs temporarily in some people with colitis. This infection usually causes no symptoms or complications. However, the bloodstream is repeatedly or continuously infected in a few people, usually those with a disorder that weakens the immune system, such as AIDS, diabetes, or cancer. This infection causes a long-lasting or recurring fever.
Other symptoms develop as the bloodstream carries the infection to other structures, such as the following:
The tissues covering the brain and spinal cord (causing meningitis Acute Bacterial Meningitis Acute bacterial meningitis is rapidly developing inflammation of the layers of tissue that cover the brain and spinal cord (meninges) and of the fluid-filled space between the meninges (subarachnoid... read more )
Guillain-Barré syndrome (a nerve disorder) develops in about 1 of 2,000 of people with Campylobacter colitis because antibodies that the body makes to fight off the infection sometimes also attack the nerves. Guillain-Barré syndrome causes weakness or paralysis. Most people recover, but muscles may be greatly weakened. People may have difficulty breathing and need to use a mechanical ventilator Mechanical Ventilation Mechanical ventilation is use of a machine to aid the movement of air into and out of the lungs. Some people with respiratory failure need a mechanical ventilator (a machine that helps air get... read more . Weakness does not always completely resolve. About 25 to 40% of people who develop Guillain-Barré syndrome have had a previous Campylobacter infection.
Reactive arthritis may develop days to weeks after the diarrhea resolves. Usually, the disorder causes inflammation and pain in a knee or other joint.
Inflammation of the eyes (uveitis Uveitis Uveitis is inflammation anywhere in the pigmented inside lining of the eye, known as the uvea or uveal tract. The uveal tract may become inflamed because of infection, injury, a bodywide autoimmune... read more ) and the urethra (causing painful urination) may also occur.
Diagnosis of Campylobacter Infections
Culture of a stool sample
Sometimes culture of a blood sample
Doctors may take a sample of stool and send it to a laboratory to grow (culture) and identify the bacteria. However, stool is not always tested. Stool cultures take days to complete, and doctors do not usually need to know which bacteria caused the diarrhea to effectively treat it. However, if people have bloody diarrhea or appear seriously ill, the stool is usually tested. A test that identifies genetic material of the bacteria in stool, called the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique, may be used so that the bacteria can be detected more quickly. The PCR technique increases the amount of the bacteria's DNA to make it easier to detect. Other tests may rapidly identify the bacteria (antigen) in the stool.
If the bacteria are identified, they are tested to see which antibiotics are effective (a process called susceptibility testing Testing of a Microorganism's Susceptibility and Sensitivity to Antimicrobial Drugs Infectious diseases are caused by microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. Doctors suspect an infection based on the person's symptoms, physical examination results,... read more ).
If doctors suspect that the bloodstream or other organs are infected, they take a sample of blood to be cultured.
Treatment of Campylobacter Infections
Usually no specific treatment
Sometimes an antibiotic such as azithromycin
Many people get better in a week or so without specific treatment.
Some people require extra fluids by vein (intravenously) or by mouth.
People who have a high fever, bloody or severe diarrhea, or worsening symptoms may need to take azithromycin for 3 days by mouth. Ciprofloxacin is an alternative but is used with caution because resistance to this antibiotic is increasing.
If the bloodstream or other organs are infected, antibiotics such as imipenem or gentamicin are required for 2 to 4 weeks. The antibiotics used first may be adjusted based on results of the susceptibility tests.
The following English-language resource may be useful. Please note that THE MANUAL is not responsible for the content of this resource.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Campylobacter: A resource providing information about Campylobacter, including outbreaks and antibiotic resistance