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Campylobacteriosis is an infectious disease caused by eating or handling contaminated food or drinking contaminated beverages. U.S. healthcare providers report more than 10,000 cases to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) yearly. CDC estimates 100 people die of the disease yearly.


Campylobacteriosis is caused by bacteria called Campylobacter. Campylobacter jejuni, C. fetus, and C. coli are the types that usually cause the disease in people.

C. jejuni causes most cases of this foodborne disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, C. jejuni is the leading cause of bacterial diarrheal illness in the United States, affecting about 2.4 million people every year. The bacteria cause between 5 and 14 percent of all diarrheal illness worldwide. C. jejuni primarily affects children less than 5 years old and young adults 15 to 29 years old.


You can get infected with Campylobacter from handling raw poultry, eating undercooked poultry, drinking nonchlorinated water or raw milk, or handling infected human or animal feces. Most frequently, poultry and cattle waste are the sources of the bacteria, but feces from puppies, kittens, and birds also may be contaminated with the bacteria.

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If you are infected with Campylobacter, you may have no symptoms. If you do, they can include

  • Diarrhea (often bloody)
  • Abdominal cramping and pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever
  • Tiredness

Campylobacteriosis usually lasts for 2 to 5 days, but in some cases as long as 10 days.


Your healthcare provider can use laboratory tests to identify Campylobacter in your stool if you are infected.

If you are like most people infected with Campylobacter, you will get better with no special treatment. If you need treatment, your health care provider can prescribe an antibiotic such as ciprofloxacin or azithromycin.

Erythromycin helps treat diarrhea caused by Campylobacter. If you have diarrhea, be sure to drink plenty of water.

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  • Wash hands before preparing food
  • Wash hands immediately after handling raw poultry or other meat
  • Wash thoroughly with soap and hot water all food preparation surfaces and utensils that have come in contact with raw meat
  • Cook poultry products to an internal temperature of 170ºF for breast meat and 180ºF for thigh meat
  • Don’t drink unpasteurized milk
  • Don't drink unchlorinated water that isn’t boiled
  • Wash hands after handling pet feces or visiting petting zoos


Some people with campylobacteriosis have convulsions with fever or meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the spinal cord).

Some people infected with Campylobacter develop arthritis.

A small number of people may develop Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), the leading cause of acute paralysis in this country. This rare condition develops from 2 to 4 weeks after Campylobacter infection and usually after diarrheal symptoms have disappeared. People with GBS suffer from increasing paralysis of the limbs which lasts for several weeks. In more severe cases, they develop breathing problems requiring very long hospital stays.


Basic research is helping scientists to better understand how microbes spread by contaminated food or water cause disease in humans.

NIAID-supported researchers are studying the bacterial genes that help pathogens (germs) establish themselves in the human body and cause disease. For example, scientists have identified genes that appear to be involved in signaling certain immune system cells to cause inflammation and may contribute to the development of diarrhea.

Other NIAID-sponsored research focuses on methods by which the organism grows and interacts in cells. Scientists have discovered that some intestinal bacteria recognize when they are in a human and respond by activating a particular set of powerful genes that enable the organism to live in the body and cause disease. Future studies will define new ways to intervene, whether by prevention or treatment, in the disease process.

Scientists have determined the complete genome (genetic blueprint) sequences for Salmonella typhi, S. typhimurium, C. jejuni, and Escherichia coli 0157:H7. Sequencing studies are under way for Shigella, Yersinia, as well as other harmful strains of E. coli. Scientists hope this new information will speed the discovery of new targets for treatments and vaccines against foodborne pathogens.

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Last Updated October 23, 2013