Campylobacter infections: what you need to know

Bacterial infections Campylobacter, also known as «campylobacteriosis», are the most common cause of diarrhea worldwide, as according to studies they cause up to 14% of all these clinical pictures globally.

Beyond this, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that food-borne illnesses – including campylobacteriosis – affect one in 10 people worldwide at any given time, which translates into in the loss of 33 million years of healthy life.

Of course, keeping the bacteria that cause these clinical conditions at bay is not just a matter of hygiene, as it can save lives in the long term, especially in countries with poor health infrastructure. Thus, Today we tell you everything you need to know about infections by Campylobacter.

What are Campylobacter infections?

First of all, it is necessary to emphasize that the term Campylobacter It does not refer to a single species, but to a genus of bacillus-shaped bacteria that contains at least 12 species that are pathogenic for humans. The most common of all is C. jejuni, which causes up to 90% of infections.

This pathogen It is one of the most common causes of diarrhea in the United States. It is estimated that about 2.4 million Americans suffer from it annually, with more than 29 epidemiological outbreaks between 2013 and 2017. Of course, these data confirm that campylobacteriosis is the order of the day.

Of the genus Campylobacter, 12 species are harmful to humans. The main symptom of the infection is diarrhea.

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Causes of Campylobacter infections

In general, this infection is caused by the ingestion of unpasteurized milk or by the ingestion of raw or uncooked meats and poultry. According to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), an inoculation as small as 500 orally input pathogenic cells can cause infection in the person.

By a mechanism similar to that of non-typhoid salmonella, bacteria Campylobacter they invade the cells of the small intestine, injure them, and disrupt fluid absorption. This generates the characteristic clinical picture that we will see in later lines.

In general, we can summarize the main sources of infection of the disease in the following:

  • Through the consumption of undercooked meat products, especially of aviary origin.
  • By consuming unpasteurized milk.
  • Due to the presence of the bacteria in untreated water.
  • From contact with infected pets or farm animals.

Main symptoms

The most common symptom of infection with Campylobacter it's diarrhea —Sometimes bloody. This sign usually appears between 2 and 5 days after contact with the bacteria, and at 6 days, in general, it stops on its own. Other accessory symptoms can also be observed:

  • Cramps and abdominal pain.
  • Fever and fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting

However, according to the US National Library of Medicine, some infected patients never have clear symptoms. Also, death from campylobacteriosis is very rare. It is only seen in very young infants, the elderly, or immunocompromised patients, such as HIV carriers.


Diagnosis once symptoms appear is straightforward. The professionals will obtain a sample of the stool and, through a stool culture, identify and isolate the bacteria causing the gastrointestinal disturbance. They can also be performed tests that identify the genome of the microorganism, which are faster.

Treatment Options for Campylobacter Infections

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), infections by Campylobacter They usually remit on their own after 3 or 6 days from the appearance of the first symptoms. Still, plenty of fluid intake is recommended to replenish electrolytes lost in diarrhea.

Drug administration is rarely used in most cases for a simple reason: its excessive application can cause the appearance of resistant strains. For this reason, in this type of clinical picture, self-medication is never contemplated and antibiotics are only prescribed for the most serious cases.

The main symptom of Campylobacter infections is diarrhea, therefore, as a first treatment option, the intake of fluids is suggested.

How to prevent these infections?

As with most Foodborne Diseases (FADs), the best prevention lies in the sanitization of the food to be consumed. The CDC also shares some measures to consider. They cover the following:

  • Wash your hands before handling any food or after touching any possible source of infection, whether people or animals.
  • Separate ingredients from meals. Cut fruits and vegetables and raw meats into different boards.
  • Cook any food of animal origin, whether or not it has been frozen before.
  • Always drink pasteurized milk and juices.
  • Under no circumstances consume untreated water.

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Final thoughts

As we have seen, infections by Campylobacter they are the leading cause of diarrhea worldwide, being the species C. jejuni the most widespread globally. Most epidemiological outbreaks occur due to the consumption of meat in poor condition, due to the ingestion of unpasteurized milk and untreated water.

Therefore, the best measure to combat campylobacteriosis is to consume only food cooked in a sanitized environment. This implies not mixing ingredients of animal and vegetable origin, always subjecting meats to high temperatures before consumption and, of course, washing your hands before cooking.