Campylobacter is a bacteria found mainly in animals such as chickens and cows. In humans, it is a common cause of diarrhea and/or stomach illness (often referred to as gastroenteritis), and is linked to contaminated food or water.
Symptoms include fever, headache and muscle pains followed by diarrhea, cramping and stomach pain. These symptoms usually occur within two to five days after being infected with Campylobacter. Diarrhea may be bloody and can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. The illness typically lasts one week. Some people can be infected but do not have any symptoms. In people with a weak immune system, Campylobacter can sometimes spread to the bloodstream and cause a serious infection. Death from this infection is very rare.
It is very rare for an infected individual to pass Campylobacter to another person. Infection usually comes from eating food or water contaminated with this bacterium. Bacteria from contaminated food such as uncooked chicken can get onto other foods in your kitchen through contact with cutting boards or utensils that were not cleaned between use. Campylobacter can also come from the stool of sick pets, including cats and dogs. Outbreaks can occur from contaminated food and also from improperly treated drinking water contaminated with manure containing Campylobacter.
The signs and symptoms of Campylobacter look like those of other bacterial infections which cause stomach problems. Campylobacter infection can only be confirmed through lab testing of stool samples.
Most individuals recover from their infection without medical treatment. Drink extra fluids if you have diarrhea to prevent dehydration. For more serious infections, check with your health care provider who may prescribe antibiotics.
Complications from Campylobacter infection are rare and generally occur one to two weeks after infection. Painful swelling of the joints (known as arthritis), particularly of the ankles, knees, wrists and joints of the hands and feet, can occur after Campylobacter infection in approximately one to five percent of patients. Guillain-Barré syndrome, a progressive weakening of the body’s muscles usually starting with the legs, occurs even less frequently (about 1 in 1,000 Campylobacter cases) but can lead to hospitalization and the need for intensive care. Muscle weakness from Guillain-Barré syndrome can lead to paralysis that lasts several weeks and full recovery may take months. Other complications include urinary tract infections, infection of the blood (sepsis) or infection of the lining of the brain (meningitis).
There are a number of steps you can take to protect yourself and those around you:
Individuals residing in Ontario who test positive for Campylobacter must be reported to their local health department by either the lab or their health care provider. In Toronto, residents who are infected with Camplyobacter will be reported to Toronto Public Health. Toronto Public Health will send a notice to you asking for additional information about your illness to help determine the source of your infection. This information can be helpful in ensuring that contaminated food or water does not cause illness to other people.
Call Toronto Public Health at 416-338-7600, TTY at 416-392-0658 or speak to your healthcare provider.