Campylobacter infection is a common cause of intestinal infection in over 1.5 million people each year in the United States; and it is one of the main causes of diarrhea and foodborne illness. Once inside the human digestive system campylobacter infects and attacks the lining of both the small and large intestines. The bacteria can also affect other parts of the body. In some cases—particularly those with chronic illnesses or a weakened immune system—the bacteria can get into the bloodstream (called bacteremia) and become life-threatening.
This bacterium is most often found in the intestines, liver, and other organs of most farm animals. When the animal is processed for food, the edible parts of the animal may become contaminated. Contamination may also occur when an animal comes in contact with feces, particularly chicken. Any raw poultry may contain campylobacter, including the organic and “free-range” products. Campylobacter can also be transmitted in water where animals graze, through milk that is not pasteurized, or through household pets from their diarrhea. Fruits and vegetables may also become contaminated with the bacteria if they come in contact with water that contains feces from animals.
Humans can acquire this bacteria by eating fruits and vegetables that have not been washed; eating raw or undercooked poultry; eating food that was prepared on a cutting board that was not cleaned after cutting raw meat; drinking untreated water; consuming unpasteurized dairy and coming into contact with dog or cat feces and not properly washing hands afterward.
Campylobacter infections usually occur 2 to 5 days after exposure and may last up to a week. The main symptoms of infection include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Watery diarrhea, sometimes bloody
- Nausea and vomiting may accompany diarrhea
Stool (poop) samples are used to identify the bacteria and make a diagnosis. Most kids will recover without medication. Sometimes antibiotics are prescribed especially if the child is very young, if the symptoms are severe or will not go away or if the child has a weakened immune system. Make sure your child drinks plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Try to avoid fruit juices and soft drinks which can make diarrhea worse. Breastfed babies should continue to breastfeed throughout the illness.
Call your doctor if:
- Diarrhea continues for more than 1 week
- There is pus or blood in the stool
- Child has diarrhea and unable to drink fluids because of nausea or vomiting
- Fever above 101°F
- Signs of dehydration (dry mouth and tongue, excessive thirst, sunken eyes, lack of energy/movement, irritability)
Campylobacter grows easily if contaminated foods are left out at room temperature. The bacterium is sensitive to heat so food should be thoroughly cooked. Follow these easy safety steps to prevent infection:
- Make sure the thickest part of any chicken being cooked reaches 165°F.
- When bringing home meat from the grocery store, put the meat in the coolest part of the car or in something that keeps things cool (insulated).
- Defrost meat and poultry in the refrigerator or microwave, making sure the juice doesn’t drip on anything else. Do not use the same cutting board to cut the meat and then cut the vegetables. Wipe the cutting board clean before cutting each one.
- Never leave food out at room temperature for over two hours.
- Wash fruits and vegetables before eating
- Use pasteurized milk and eggs
- Wash your hands well after preparing food, changing diapers, and having any contact with pets or farm animals.
Call our office today if you think your child is experiencing the symptoms of campylobacter infection.