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Campylobacter infection

Definition

Campylobacter enteritis is an infection of the small intestine with Campylobacter jejuni bacteria.

Alternative Names

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

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 usually last one week, and may include:

Exams and Tests

The 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 usually 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 means your body does not have as much water and fluids as it should.

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

  • Drink 8 to 10 glasses of clear fluids every day. Water is best.
  • Drink at least 1 cup of liquid every time you have a loose bowel movement.
  • Eat small meals throughout the day instead of three 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 health care provider if:

  • You have diarrhea that continues for more than 1 week or comes back.
  • There is pus or 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, or your child has a fever above 100.4°F along with diarrhea.
  • You have signs of dehydration (thirst, dizziness, light-headedness)
  • You have recently traveled to a foreign country and developed diarrhea.
  • Your diarrhea does not get better in 5 days, or it gets worse

If your child has symptoms, call your child's health care provider if your child has:

  • A fever above 100.4°F 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 of this infection.

References

DuPont HL. Approach to the patient with suspected enteric infection. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 291.

Giannella RA. Infectious enteritis and proctocolitis and bacterial food poisoning. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2010:chap 107.

Semrad CE. Approach to the patient with diarrhea and malabsorption. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 142.

Review Date:5/12/2014
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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