Campylobacteriosis

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Campylobacteriosis is an infection of the intestinal tract that is caused by the Campylobacter bacterium. The infection may cause diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, and abdominal cramps.

What Is Campylobacter?

Campylobacter (kamp-pi-lo-BAK-ter) is a type of bacteria that is a normal inhabitant of the digestive tract of many animals. People, however, do not normally carry Campylobacter, and exposure to it usually causes an intestinal infection called campylobacteriosis (kamp-pi-lo-bak-ter-ee-O-sis).

The most common source of Campylobacter in the United States is chicken. When chickens (and other animals) are killed for food, the bacteria from their digestive tract can contaminate the meat. People get infected when they eat raw or uncooked meats and eggs (thorough cooking kills the bacteria), drink raw (unpasteurized) milk, or drink contaminated water. Oftentimes, juices from raw meats drip and contaminate other foods. In rare cases, contact with people or animals who are infected spreads the illness.

Campylobacter is the most common bacterial cause of diarrhea in the United States, where more than 2 million cases occur each year. The illness most frequently affects infants and children younger than age 10, although anyone can get it. Most cases occur in the summer and fall.

What Happens When People Get Campylobacteriosis?

Within two to five days after exposure to Campylobacter, a person may develop diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, and blood in the stool. Most people with campylobacteriosis recover within about ten days without any treatment other than drinking lots of fluids to prevent dehydration (a dangerous loss of fluids and salts).

In serious cases, people with campylobacteriosis may require antibiotics* and intravenous* (IV) rehydration. In rare cases, campylobacteriosis may lead to other illnesses, such as colitis, arthritis, meningitis (men-in-JY-tis), and Guillain-Barre (gee-YAN-ba-RAY) syndrome, a disorder that can result in temporary paralysis.

*antibiotics (an-ty-by-OT-iks) are drugs that kill bacteria.

*intravenous (in-tra-VEE-nus) means injected directly into the veins.

Prevention

The best way to prevent infection is to treat all meat and eggs as if they were contaminated: never letting meat drip on other food; always cooking meat thoroughly; always washing cooking utensils and cooking areas thoroughly; and always washing hands after using the bathroom, touching pets, and before handling food.

Resources

Book

Scott, Elizabeth, and Paul Sockett. How to Prevent Food Poisoning: A Practical Guide to Safe Cooking, Eating, and Food Handling. New York: John Wiley, 1998.

Organizations

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) posts a Bad Bug Book at its website with a fact sheet about Campylobacter jejuni and campylobacteriosis.

http://vm.cfsan.fda.gov/~mow/chap4.html

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). CDC has a National Center for Infectious Diseases that posts a fact sheet about Campylobacter infections at its website.

http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/campylobacter_g.htm

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