Campylobacter Infection

Campylobacter bacteria cause an infectious disease commonly known as Campylobacteriosis.

Infection with these bacteria is one of the most common causes of human bacterial gastroenteritis.

Almost all cases occur as isolated, random events, not as a part of huge outbreaks.

Campylobacteriosis occurs more frequently in the summer months than in the winter.

Campylobacteriosis is mainly caused by Campylobacter jejuni.

This is a spiral-shaped bacterium normally found in cattle, pigs, and birds. It causes no problems in these animals.

C. jejuni blossoms and breeds where there is less than the atmospheric amount of oxygen.

About 1% of human Campylobacter cases are caused by other species such as C. coli, C. upsaliensis and C. lari.

C. coli are also found in cattle, pigs, and birds. C. upsaliensis are found in cats and dogs and C. lari are found in seabirds.

Transmission of Campylobacteriosis

Normally, disease-causing bacteria get into people through contaminated food. Campylobacter will easily get into your body through undercooked or poorly handled poultry.

Giblets, particularly the liver, also harbour the bacteria. Freezing reduces the number of Campylobacter bacteria present on raw meat.

Milk can be contaminated with manure. Additionally, unpasteurized milk can become contaminated if the cow has an infection with Campylobacter in her udder.

Contact with contaminated water, livestock, or household pets can also cause the disease.

Streams and ponds can become contaminated from infected excrement from cows and wild birds. This happens mostly in the developing world.

Tourists are cautioned that risk for becoming infected with Campylobacteriosis may be high in some areas and should therefore avoid drinking contaminated water.

Campylobacteriosis is contagious. Infected persons should wash their hands frequently and should not prepare food for others.

Campylobacter Infection Symptoms

Some people who are infected with Campylobacteriosis do not have any symptoms at all. Others develop:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Cramps
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever

    These symptoms develop within 2–5 days of picking up pathogenic Campylobacter bacteria.

    The diarrhoea may be bloody and can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. In most people, the illness lasts for 7–10 days.

    Campylobacteriosis Diagnosis

    Diarrhoea and bloody diarrhoea can be caused by many different kinds of infections. Only laboratory tests can give a conclusive diagnosis.

    To look for bacterial causes of diarrhoea, a laboratory needs to be specifically asked to culture a sample of a discharge from the bowels of an ill person.

    Campylobacteriosis diagnosis requires these special laboratory culture procedures if it is to be identified.

    Campylobacter Treatment

    Almost all infected persons recover without any specific treatment. If infected, drink plenty of fluids for the duration of the diarrhoea.

    In severe cases, antibiotics such as erythromycin or a fluoroquinolone are normally used. The duration of the symptoms will be shortened if these are given early in the sickness.

    Long Term Consequences of Infection

    Recovery from Campylobacteriosis can take up to 10 days. In rare cases, the infection can be fatal.

    In addition, some people develop Guillain-Barré syndrome. In Guillain-Barré syndrome, the nerves that join the spinal cord and brain to the rest of the body are damaged. Sometimes they are damaged permanently.

    Guillain-Barré syndrome begins several weeks after the diarrhoeal illness. It occurs when a person's immune system is prompted to attack the body's own nerves. It can lead to paralysis that lasts several weeks. Normally, it requires intensive care.

    A number of individuals may develop arthritis following campylobacteriosis.In addition, Campylobacter can spread to the bloodstream of persons with a weakened immune system and causes other serious life-threatening infections.

    Preventing Campylobacter Infection

    Cooking kills Campylobacter. Campylobacteriosis is easily preventable by observing the highest standards of hygiene including:

  • All poultry products should be cooked thoroughly.
  • Meat should be cooked throughout. No pink should show & juices should run clear.
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap before and after handling raw foods of animal origin.
  • Prevent cross-contamination in the kitchen by using separate cutting boards for foods of animal origin and other foods.
  • Clean all cutting boards, kitchen surfaces and utensils with soap and hot water after preparing raw food of animal origin.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables before eating.
  • Do not drink unpasteurized milk and water.
  • Do not prepare or handle food until your symptoms have stopped.
  • Ensure that persons with diarrhoea wash their hands thoroughly and frequently with soap to minimise the risk of infecting others.
  • Thoroughly wash your hands after changing the nappy of an infected infant.
  • Children should be supervised to ensure they wash their hands well.
  • Clean bathrooms and other surfaces regularly.
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap after having contact with pet excrement.

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