The Campylobacter infection is an intestinal infection that causes diarrhoea. In rare cases, severe complications may arise. These bacteria are also one of the many causes of traveller’s diarrhoea or food poisoning.
The Campylobacter infection is caused by a spiral-shaped, curved or rod-shaped bacterium. They are motile, meaning they move via unipolar or bipolar flagella.
The Campylobacter infection is transmittable to humans through infected animals or contaminated animal products. This is possible through direct contact with infected animals or consuming contaminated food via undercooked meat or meat products.
Most cases, meats are contaminated by Campylobacter from faeces during slaughtering. Contaminated water and ice are also a source of getting infected with the Campylobacter infection. Some cases of Campylobacter Infection occur after contact with infected water during recreational activities.
The Campylobacter bacteria are mostly found in warm-blooded animals such as poultry (chicken), sheep, pigs, cattle, shellfish. It can also be found in pets such as cats and dogs. These animals often carry Campylobacter infection asymptomatically, but they are still able to transmit it the bacteria and cause disease.
Campylobacter is also known with other names, and they include Campylobacteriosis or Campylobacter gastroenteritis. Although anyone in any age bracket can get infected with, babies and children have higher chances of getting infected, and the condition is more common in men than in women.
Campylobacter infection is caused by Campylobacter bacteria. These bacteria are usually found in the digestive systems of poultry, cattle, pigs, ostrich.
A person can get infected by eating contaminated meat, drinking contaminated water and unpasteurised milk. The most common source includes;
- Raw poultry and undercooked meat
- Contaminated vegetable
- Contaminated water
- Unpasteurised milk
- Close contact with infected animals or person
Contamination usually occurs when infected animals are slaughtered. The bacteria spread from the intestine of the infected animal to other parts of the meat. Infection in a cow’s udder or contact with manure can contaminate milk.
This is why it is strongly advised to only consume pasteurised dairy products to avoid getting infected. In some under-developed countries, infected animal waste can get into streams and lake.
When water is contaminated, it can spread the bacteria to people, and their farm produces such as fruits and vegetables. Therefore, it is advised to wash your fruits and vegetables with clean water before consumption.
The onset of symptoms occurs 2 to 5 days after Campylobacter bacteria gets into the body system. The symptoms usually last 3 to 6 days. The symptoms include:
- Abdominal cramp or pain (this can be mild or severe)
- Fever (typically mild)
- Nausea and vomiting
When a person’s immune system is suppressed, the infection may spread to the heart or brain.
Other problems that may occur are:
- Form of arthritis called reactive arthritis, -although this is rare
- A disorder that makes the body’s immune system to attack the body’s nerves called Guillain-Barre syndrome which can lead to paralysis. This occurs on rare occasions
- Gall bladder infection also known as Cholecystitis
The Campylobacter infection is self-limiting and usually goes away on its own in a week. Therefore, treatments with antibiotics are not required (except in severe cases).
Nonetheless, there are steps one can adopt to feel better, and they include;
- Taking water or fluids (that contain simple salts and sugars) to keep you hydrated. For patients who have diabetes, stick to clean water and sugar-free fluids
- Consuming at least a cup of liquid every time you use the toilet
- Consuming salty foods such as chips, soup, sports drinks, pretzels
- Eating food that is high in potassium like potatoes, banana and watered-down fruit juices
- Children may need intravenous fluid treatment in a health care centre
Do not take medications to stop vomiting and diarrhoea unless your health care provider advises you to. Diarrhoea and vomiting are the body’s way of shedding and getting rid of the infection.
For immune-compromised patients (patients with HIV/AIDS or patients with cancer undergoing chemotherapy), it is advised to contact your health care provider immediately. The doctor may prescribe medications such as Azithromycin, Levofloxacin, or Ciprofloxacin to help fight the infection.
Diarrhoea and vomiting are symptoms of many illnesses as it is also one of the symptoms of the infection. Therefore, for proper and accurate diagnosis, the doctor may collect your stool sample and have it tested for Campylobacter jejuni.
This may take several days before there is a result. In rare cases, the doctor may require a blood test which takes a longer time (up to 2 weeks) before the results are ready.
Prevention, they say, is better than cure. Specific preventive measures can be taken to minimise the risk of infection, and they include;
- Proper hand hygiene especially when handling raw poultry or meat
- Keep uncooked poultry or meat away from other foods like fruits and vegetables. You can use a separate utensil, cooking surface and cutting board for them
- Cook meat or poultry at least at 165 Fahrenheit. The meat should never be pink but white
- Avoid consuming poultry or meat that appears undercooked
- Avoid drinking unpasteurised milk and dairy products
- Wash hands after touching a pet or animal
- Wash hands too after coming in contact with animal poop
- Infected people should also wash their hands regularly
- Proper hygienic measures should be taken by slaughterhouses and raw meat producers to contain contamination
- Adequate sanitary measures should also be adopted by domestic and professional food handlers to keep contamination to the bare minimum
- Avoid ice made from questionable water
- Cook food properly and serve hot
- Treat or disinfect questionable water with a slow-release disinfectant agent
- Thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables if they are going to be eaten raw. You can also peel the back of the fruits before consumption
- Professional food handlers who suffer from fever, diarrhoea, vomiting, or visible infected skin lesions should report to their employer immediately
- Avoid school, work or any public places until stool is firm. This will help limit and contain the spread of The Campylobacter Infection
- If you still have diarrhoea, stay home and try to stay hydrated. A relapse is possible, but not likely
Contact your health care provider if:
- Diarrhoea and vomiting start in infants under three months
- The symptoms persist after one week or come back
- The stool is bloody
- You are unable to consume fluids due to nausea or vomiting
- Fever is above 38 degrees Celsius
- You experience signs of dehydration like dizziness, thirst, dry mouth and light-headedness or dark urine
- You have severe abdominal pain or cramp
- You have been vomiting for more than 12 hours
The immune system is compromised or suppressed by HIV/AIDS or by medications used to treat cancer. Campylobacter bacteria can cause severe infection in the bloodstream and other complications.