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Campylobacteriosis is an infectious disease caused by ingesting food or drink contaminated with a bacteria called Campylobacter.  Data from the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet) indicates that about 14 cases are diagnosed each year per 100,000 persons in the US population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, many cases go unreported or undiagnosed, and the CDC estimates that campylobacteriosis is the second most common foodborne illness in the US affecting over 1.3 million persons every year.


Several types of Campylobacter cause Campylobacteriosis in people, including Campylobacter jejuni, C. fetus, and C. coliC. jejuni causes most human cases of this foodborne disease.


Infection with Campylobacter typically occurs from handling raw poultry, eating undercooked poultry, drinking nonchlorinated water or raw milk, or handling infected human or animal feces. Poultry and cattle waste are the most frequent sources of the bacteria, but feces from puppies, kittens, and birds also may be contaminated with the bacteria.


If you are infected with Campylobacter, you may not have significant symptoms. However, if you do, they can include:

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

Symptoms typically occur within 2 to 5 days after ingestion of the organism and last about one week.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Healthcare providers can use laboratory tests to identify Campylobacter.
Most people infected with Campylobacter recover without specific treatment. However, antimicrobial therapy may be recommended for people at risk of severe disease, such as those with weakened immune systems. Azithromycin and fluoroquinolones (e.g., ciprofloxacin) are often used to treat these infections. Resistance to antimicrobials is rising, and the CDC has designated drug-resistant Campylobacter a serious public health threat.  Antimicrobial susceptibility testing can help guide appropriate therapy.


Some simple food handling practices can help prevent Campylobacter infection.

  • 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 thoroughly
  • Don't drink unpasteurized milk
  • Don't drink unchlorinated water that isn't boiled
  • Wash hands after handling pet feces or visiting petting zoos


Campylobacter infection can also result in long-term or chronic disease.

For example, some people infected with Campylobacter develop severe arthritis.  Others may develop Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), the leading cause of acute paralysis in the US. People with GBS suffer from increasing paralysis of the limbs which can last for several weeks. In more severe cases, GBS can lead to breathing problems requiring very long hospital stays. It is estimated that 1 in 1,000 reported Campylobacter illnesses leads to GBS.


NIAID supports fundamental research that helps scientists better understand how microbes interact with and cause disease in humans.

NIAID-supported researchers are studying the bacterial genes that enable pathogens, like Campylobacter, to establish themselves in the human body and cause disease. For example, scientists have studied the genes that influence the bacteria's tail-like appendages (flagella). Recent discoveries have found that the Campylobacter flagella play a complex role in the bacteria's virulence and pathogenesis, including colonization of the gastrointestinal tract of both human and animal hosts.

Other NIAID-supported research focuses on the mechanisms by which the organism overcomes the action of antibiotics.  Scientists have discovered that small pumps used to transport antibiotics out of the cell can increase Campylobacter‘s resistance to antibiotics.  New research shows that novel therapeutics targeting these pumps can increase the bacteria's susceptibility to antibiotics.

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Last Updated November 04, 2015