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Fact Sheet: Campylobacteriosis

What is campylobacteriosis?

Campylobacteriosis is a bacterial infection that affects the intestines (guts) and, on a rare occasion, the bloodstream. It is a common cause of diarrhea (frequent and watery bowel movements).


How is it spread?

Campylobacter is spread by eating or drinking food or water with the bacteria in it, and sometimes by contact with infected people or animals.


How common is campylobacteriosis?

Campylobacteriosis has probably been around for many years, but only recently has it been recognized as a common infection. Campylobacter is the most common bacterial cause of loose bowel illness in the United States. Most cases occur as single cases and not as part of a large outbreak. Cases usually occur from time to time, but are known to increase in the summer months.


What are the signs and symptoms of campylobacteriosis?

Symptoms may include mild to severe diarrhea (loose bowels), fever, and varying traces of blood in the bowel movements. They generally appear two to five days after the contact is made.


How is it diagnosed?

In order for doctors to identify Campylobacter as the cause of the illness, they must test a sample of the bowel movement from the sick person.


What is the treatment for campylobacteriosis?

Most people will recover on their own without any formal treatment. However, some people need extra fluids to prevent dehydration (drying up of bodily fluids). Antibiotics are occasionally used to treat bad cases or to shorten the time they will carry the bacteria. Antibiotic treatment may be important for food handlers, children in day care, and health care workers.


Are infected persons contagious?

Yes, infected persons can pass the bacteria to others. Generally, infected people pass the bacteria in their bowel movements for a few days to a week or more. Certain antibiotics may shorten the length of time that a person can carry the bacteria, or the time that the bacterium remains in the guts.


How can campylobacteriosis be prevented?

  • Always handle raw poultry (birds, especially chicken), beef and pork as if they are contaminated:
    • Refrigerate foods right away; don't let them sit at room temperature.
    • Wash cutting boards, counters, knives and other utensils used for preparing raw meat immediately after use to avoid spreading the bacteria to other foods.
    • Don't eat raw or undercooked meats.
    • Use a thermometer to make sure that the inside of meat reaches 165°F, and that there is no pink color remaining in the meat.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly before and after food preparation.
  • Wash your hands after using the toilet.
  • Make sure children wash their hands carefully after handling pets or other animals.

If you think you may have Campylobacteriosis, it is a good idea to contact your doctor or health clinic for information on where you can get tested. If you can't afford a doctor and/or are not currently on a health plan or insurance, call 1-800-SAFENET (723-3638) for information on low-cost clinics near you.

Issued by: The Oregon Health Services
Date: April, 1997; Updated June 2001

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