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Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet

Family and Consumer Sciences

1787 Neil Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43210-1295


A New Foodborne Illness


Nancy Stehulak


What is campylobacteriosis?

Campylobacter jejuni is probably the most common cause of bacterial diarrhea in the United States, with even more occurrences than salmonella. These bacteria are fairly widespread, occurring in humans and animals, skin, soil, and water. They can live in any setting that provides nutrients, moisture, oxygen at room temperature.

Is this a new disease?

Campylobacter have been known as the cause of diseases in animals since 1909, but they have been generally recognized only recently as a cause of the human disease, campylobacteriosis. The increase in reports in the United States must be due to increased awareness and better laboratory techniques. Campylobacteriosis is a very widespread diarrheal disease in the developing world, commonly affecting babies and young children. Campylobacter occur widely in many animals, especially chickens and turkeys.

Who gets campylobacteriosis?

The illness can be mistaken for a stomach flu and attacks the very young, the very old and those with weakened immune systems.

How is the germ spread?

Campylobacteria are generally spread by eating or drinking contaminated food or water. Contact with infected people or animals can also spread the disease. Campylobacteria will not readily grow in food. The risk of infection is greater with the consumption of raw or under cooked food of animal origin. This risk can be avoided by consuming only pasteurized milk and thoroughly cooking meat and poultry; by obtaining water from approved sources; and by good hygiene in the kitchen. Household pets with diarrhea have often been shown to be the source of infection for many. Irradiation readily destroys Campylobacter and it can be used to greatly reduce the incidence on poultry.

What are the symptoms of campylobacteriosis?

Symptoms vary from mild (with very few signs of illness) to severe (with bloody diarrhea as the most characteristic symptom). Other symptoms are: fever, nausea, abdominal cramps and sometimes vomiting. The duration of the illness is usually two to ten days, but symptoms, particularly abdominal cramps, may recur for up to three months after the infection.

What is the treatment for campylobacteriosis?

Most people infected with campylobacteria will recover on their own or require fluids to prevent dehydration. Antibiotics are occasionally used to treat severe cases or to shorten the carrier phase, which may be important for food handlers, children in day care, and health care workers.

Do infected people need to be isolated or excluded from school or work?

Since the organism is passed in the feces, only people with active diarrhea who are unable to control their bowel habits (infants, young children, certain handicapped individuals, for example) should be isolated. Most infected people may return to work or school when their stools become formed if they carefully wash their hands after toilet visits. Food handlers, children in day care, and health care workers must obtain the approval of the local or state health department before returning to their routine activities.

To prevent campylobacteriosis:

  1. Always treat raw poultry, beef and pork as if they are contaminated and handle accordingly:
    • Wrap fresh meats in plastic bags at the market to prevent blood from dripping on other foods.
    • Refrigerate foods promptly; minimize holding at room temperature.
    • Cutting boards and counters used for preparation should be washed immediately after use to prevent cross contamination with other foods.
    • Avoid eating raw or under cooked meats.
    • Ensure that the correct internal cooking temperature is reached particularly when using a microwave.
  2. Avoid eating raw eggs or under cooking foods containing raw eggs.
  3. Avoid using raw milk.
  4. Encourage careful hand washing before and after food preparation.
  5. Make sure children, particularly those who handle pets, wash their hands carefully.
  6. Clean kitchen sink with disinfectant following any pet care using the sink or food preparation area.



  1. New York State Department of Health, Communicable Disease Fact Sheet, Campylobacteriosis, April 1996.

  2. Institute of Food Science & Technology: Foodborne Campylobacteriosis - and How to Safeguard Against It, 1995-96.

  3. Nutrition for Living, Christian, Janet and Greger, Janet. The Benjamin/Cummings Publishing Company, Inc., Fourth Edition, 1994.
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