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Patient education: Campylobacter infection (The Basics)

Patient education: Campylobacter infection (The Basics)

What is a Campylobacter infection? — A Campylobacter infection is an infection that causes sudden diarrhea, stomach cramping, and pain in the area around the belly button. It is caused by a type of bacteria called Campylobacter.

Campylobacter bacteria are often found in chicken, turkey, and other types of poultry. These bacteria are also found in other types of meat. Most often, people get infected with campylobacter when they:

Eat undercooked chicken or other meats

Eat foods that were prepared using knives, cutting boards, or other kitchen tools that were used on raw chicken or meat and were not washed

Drink milk that is not pasteurized or eat foods made with milk that is not pasteurized

What are the symptoms of a Campylobacter infection? — The symptoms include:

Diarrhea that comes on suddenly (and can be bloody)

Stomach cramps

Pain in the area around the belly button (sometimes spreading to the right side of the belly)

For about a day before the above symptoms start, a third of those with a Campylobacter infection also get:

High fever


Body aches



Diarrhea caused by Campylobacter usually lasts about a week and then goes away on its own. Belly pain sometimes continues even after diarrhea goes away.

In very few cases, some people develop pain in their ankles, knees, or other joints after having a Campylobacter infection. This pain usually goes away on its own. In very rare cases, some people develop a different problem called Guillain-Barre syndrome after having a Campylobacter infection. In Guillain-Barre syndrome, a person's infection-fighting system attacks their own nervous system. This can cause muscle weakness on both sides of the body.

In children, the symptoms of Campylobacter infection can be more severe. Children can have the same symptoms listed above, but they can also have vomiting and a higher fever. In children, the fever can even lead to seizures.

Should I see a doctor or nurse? — See your doctor or nurse if you:

Have severe belly pain

Cannot eat or drink

Vomit blood or have blood in your bowel movements

Have a fever higher than 100.4°F (38°C)

Have diarrhea that lasts more than a week

Have any medical problem that makes it hard for you to fight infection (such as cancer or AIDS) or you take medicines to suppress your immune system

Young children and older adults with symptoms should make sure to see their doctor or nurse. That's because people in these groups can get dehydrated more easily.

Will I need tests? — Probably not, but your doctor might do a test on a sample of bowel movement to check what type of infection you have.

How is Campylobacter infection treated? — Treatment is not usually needed. Most people get better without treatment.

People who are very sick, who have a weakened immune system, or who do not get better after a week can get antibiotics to fight the infection.

Is there anything I can do on my own to feel better? — Yes. You can:

Drink enough liquids so that your body does not get "dehydrated." Dehydration is when the body loses too much water.

Eat small meals that do not have a lot of fat in them

Rest, if you feel tired

Can Campylobacter infection be prevented? — To reduce your chance of getting (or spreading) a Campylobacter infection and other types of food poisoning:

Wash your hands after changing diapers, going to the bathroom, blowing your nose, touching animals, or taking out the trash

Stay home from work or school until you feel better (if you are sick)

Pay attention to food safety. Tips include:

Do not drink unpasteurized milk or foods made with it

Wash fruits and vegetables well before eating them

Keep the refrigerator colder than 40°F (4.4°C) and the freezer below 0°F (-18°C)

Cook meat and seafood until well done

Cook eggs until the yolk is firm

Always wash your hands, knives, and cutting boards after they touch raw food

For more food safety tips to prevent food poisoning, see the table (table 1).

Pregnant women and people who have trouble fighting infection can do more things to prevent getting food poisoning. If you are pregnant or have trouble fighting off infections, talk to your doctor or nurse about other ways to prevent getting food poisoning.

More on this topic

Patient education: Food poisoning (The Basics)
Patient education: Diarrhea in adolescents and adults (The Basics)
Patient education: Diarrhea in children (The Basics)
Patient education: Nausea and vomiting in adults (The Basics)
Patient education: Viral gastroenteritis in adults (The Basics)
Patient education: Rotavirus infection (The Basics)
Patient education: Enteric (typhoid and paratyphoid) fever (The Basics)

Patient education: Foodborne illness (food poisoning) (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Acute diarrhea in adults (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Acute diarrhea in children (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Chronic diarrhea in adults (Beyond the Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Jan 02, 2023.
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