Campylobacter fact sheet
What is campylobacteriosis?
Campylobacteriosis is an infection of the bowel caused by the bacteria Campylobacter. It is usually diagnosed by testing a faecal specimen that has been sent to a laboratory. Sometimes the bacteria may be grown from blood. Campylobacteriosis is a notifiable disease.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms can include diarrhoea (sometimes with blood, or mucus), stomach cramps, fever, nausea and vomiting. Dehydration can occur.
In most people symptoms usually last a few days to one week or longer. It may be several months before bowel habits completely return to normal.
Symptoms can develop between one to 10 days after becoming infected, but more commonly between two to five days.
Usually the infection occurs in the bowel, but occasionally it may spread to blood or other parts of the body. This can be serious and require hospitalisation.
Anyone can get campylobacteriosis, although very young children, the elderly, people with weak immune systems and people who work with farm animals are at greater risk of infection.
Campylobacter infection has been associated with rare complications including reactive arthritis (painful joints) and Guillain-Barre syndrome (a rare neurological disease causing paralysis).
How is it treated?
People usually recover from campylobacteriosis within a few days and without antibiotic treatment.
Antibiotics are sometimes prescribed for those prone to severe illness.
Anyone with diarrhoea should drink extra fluid to avoid dehydration. Children with diarrhoea who refuse extra fluids should see a doctor. Anyone with prolonged or severe diarrhoea or who has symptoms causing them concern should see a doctor.
Medicines to prevent vomiting or diarrhoea should not be given (especially in children) except when specifically prescribed by a doctor.
How is it spread?
People can become infected with Campylobacter by handling or eating raw or undercooked meat, particularly poultry, or through eating food which has become cross contaminated with raw meat juices.
Campylobacter can also be spread through contact with animals that may carry the bacteria. It also may be spread through drinking unpasteurised milk or untreated water.
People who have campylobacteriosis can infect others while the Campylobacter bacteria remain in their faeces.
They may carry the bacteria for several weeks and people can still spread the infection even though they appear well. The risk of infection decreases markedly after the diarrhoea has stopped.
How is it prevented?
Prevention measures for campylobacteriosis include:
- cooking all meat and poultry (including liver) thoroughly (no longer pink) and the juices run clear
- using separate cutting boards for meat and other foods. If you have only one chopping board, wash it well in hot soapy water before reuse
- not consuming raw or unpasteurised milk or other dairy products
- washing kitchen work surfaces and utensils with warm soapy water after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry
- washing hands in warm soapy water after going to the toilet, changing nappies, changing soiled linen, after gardening and after touching pets and other animals
- never changing nappies on tables or counters where food is prepared or eaten
- cleaning books, toys, equipment, furnishings, floors, nappy change areas and toilets regularly (including toilet door handles).
People with diarrhoea should not prepare or handle food that will be eaten by others.
How is it controlled?
Children in childcare or school should not attend until they have not had a loose bowel motion for 24 hours.
Anyone with diarrhoea should not swim, wade or paddle in public pools or other recreational water facilities.
People with diarrhoea who are involved in food preparation or care for others in hospitals, aged care facilities or childcare should not work while they are ill and should not return to work until 24 hours after their symptoms have ceased. After recovery from campylobacteriosis it is important to maintain good hygiene and hand washing practices.
Population Health Services can support the response to outbreaks of diarrhoea.
If there are two or more cases in a hospital, childcare centre, aged care facility, or other institution call the Population Health Services Hotline on 1800 671 738.