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Campylobacter infection

Definition

Campylobacter infection occurs in the small intestine from a bacteria called Campylobacter jejuni. It is a type of food poisoning.

Alternative Names

Food poisoning - campylobacter enteritis; Infectious diarrhea - campylobacter enteritis; Bacterial diarrhea; Campy; Gastroenteritis - campylobacter; Colitis - campylobacter

Causes

Campylobacter enteritis is a common cause of intestinal infection. These bacteria are also one of the many causes of traveler's diarrhea or food poisoning.

People most often get infected by eating or drinking food or water that contains the bacteria. The most commonly contaminated foods are raw poultry, fresh produce, and unpasteurized milk.

A person can also be infected by close contact with infected people or animals.

Symptoms

Symptoms start 2 to 4 days after being exposed to the bacteria. They often last a week, and may include:

Exams and Tests

Your health care provider will perform a physical exam. These tests may be done:

  • Complete blood count with differential
  • Stool sample testing for white blood cells
  • Stool culture for Campylobacter jejuni

Treatment

The infection almost always goes away on its own, and often does not need to be treated with antibiotics. Severe symptoms may improve with antibiotics.

The goal is to make you feel better and avoid dehydration. Dehydration is a loss of water and other fluids in the body.

These things may help you feel better if you have diarrhea:

  • Drink 8 to 10 glasses of clear fluids every day. For people who do not have diabetes, fluids should contain salts and simple sugars. For those with diabetes, sugar-free fluids should be used.
  • Drink at least 1 cup (240 milliliters) of liquid every time you have a loose bowel movement.
  • Eat small meals throughout the day instead of 3 big meals.
  • Eat some salty foods, such as pretzels, soup, and sports drinks.
  • Eat some high-potassium foods, such as bananas, potatoes without the skin, and watered-down fruit juices.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Most people recover in 5 to 8 days.

When a person's immune system does not work well, the Campylobacter infection may spread to the heart or brain.

Other problems that may occur are:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if:

  • You have diarrhea that continues for more than 1 week or it comes back.
  • There is blood in your stools.
  • You have diarrhea and are unable to drink fluids due to nausea or vomiting.
  • You have a fever above 101°F (38.3°C), and diarrhea.
  • You have signs of dehydration (thirst, dizziness, lightheadedness)
  • You have recently traveled to a foreign country and developed diarrhea.
  • Your diarrhea does not get better in 5 days, or it gets worse.

Call your provider if your child has:

  • A fever above 100.4°F (37.7°C) and diarrhea
  • Diarrhea that does not get better in 2 days, or it gets worse
  • Been vomiting for more than 12 hours (in a newborn under 3 months you should call as soon as vomiting or diarrhea begins)
  • Reduced urine output, sunken eyes, sticky or dry mouth, or no tears when crying

Prevention

Learning how to prevent food poisoning can reduce the risk for this infection.

References

Allos BM. Campylobacter infections. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 303.

Bhutta ZA. Acute gastroenteritis in children. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St Geme JW, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 340.

DuPont HL. Approach to the patient with suspected enteric infection. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 283.

Haines CF, Sears CL. Infectious enteritis and proctocolitis and bacterial food poisoning. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 110.

Semrad CE. Approach to the patient with diarrhea and malabsorption. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 140.

Review Date:3/13/2016
Reviewed By:Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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