Campylobacter are a group of germs (bacteria) that are a common cause of food poisoning. Typically, food poisoning causes gastroenteritis, an infection of the gut (intestines), leading to diarrhoea and often being sick (vomiting) too.
Campylobacter bacteria are commonly found in raw meat, particularly poultry. Infection usually causes relatively mild symptoms but complications, including lack of fluid in the body (dehydration), can occur in some cases. The usual treatment is to drink lots of fluid to avoid dehydration. Antibiotic medicines are sometimes needed in severe cases. The Foods Standards Agency in the UK has identified the '4 Cs' to help prevent food poisoning, including food poisoning caused by campylobacter.
Campylobacter are a group of germs (bacteria) that are a common cause of food poisoning. Food poisoning occurs when food or water contaminated with germs (microbes), poisons (toxins) or chemicals is eaten or drunk. Microbes include bacteria, viruses and parasites. A parasite is a living thing that lives in, or on, another living organism. Typically, food poisoning causes gastroenteritis, an infection of the gut (intestines), leading to diarrhoea, and sometimes also being sick (vomiting).
Campylobacter germs (bacteria) are commonly found in raw meat, particularly raw poultry such as chicken, turkey, etc. Cooking meat thoroughly usually kills the bacteria. Campylobacter may also be found in unpasteurised milk or untreated water (including ice cubes made from untreated water). Occasionally, mushrooms and shellfish can contain campylobacter.
Pets (including cats and dogs) and other animals infected with campylobacter can also pass on the bacteria to you. For example, cases of campylobacter have occurred after visiting farms. (Note: in animals, campylobacter rarely causes any symptoms for the animals themselves.)
Campylobacter germs (bacteria) are the most common bacteria causing food poisoning in the UK. Campylobacter food poisoning can affect anyone of any age. However, it is more common in certain groups of people. These include:
The typical symptoms are feeling sick (nausea), diarrhoea, and being sick (vomiting), although vomiting does not always occur. The diarrhoea can sometimes be bloody. You may also get crampy stomach pains and develop a high temperature (fever). Symptoms tend to come on within 2-5 days of eating the contaminated food or of being in contact with the contaminated animal. But sometimes the time period before symptoms appear (known as the 'incubation period') can be as long as 10 days.
In most people, symptoms are relatively mild and improve within 2-3 days. About 9 in 10 affected people recover from the illness within one week. However, sometimes, symptoms can be more severe and/or complications can occur. If symptoms are severe, lack of fluid in the body (dehydration) can occur. You should consult a doctor quickly if you suspect that you (or your child) are becoming dehydrated. Mild dehydration is common and is usually easily reversed by drinking lots of fluids. Severe dehydration can be fatal unless quickly treated because the organs of your body need a certain amount of fluid to function.
Dehydration is more likely to occur in:
Dehydration in adults is more likely to occur in:
Many people will recognise food poisoning from the typical symptoms. If your symptoms are mild, you do not usually need to seek medical advice or receive specific medical treatment. So, you may have campylobacter infection that is not 'confirmed'.
However, in some circumstances, you may need to seek medical advice when you have food poisoning (see below about when to seek medical advice). The doctor or nurse may ask you questions about recent travel abroad or any ways that you may have eaten or drunk contaminated food or water. They will also usually check you for signs of lack of fluid in the body (dehydration). They may check your temperature, pulse and blood pressure. They may also examine your tummy (abdomen) to look for any tenderness.
The doctor or nurse may ask you to collect a stool (faeces) sample. Campylobacter is usually diagnosed after a sample of your stool is sent to the laboratory for testing.
If your child has gastroenteritis from any cause (including possible food poisoning caused by campylobacter), you should seek medical advice in the following situations (or if there are any other symptoms that you are concerned about):
If you have gastroenteritis from any cause (including possible food poisoning caused by campylobacter), you should seek medical advice in any of the following situations (or if there are any other symptoms that you are concerned about):
Most children with campylobacter do not need any specific treatment. The symptoms usually improve in a few days as their immune system has time to clear the infection. The aim is to make sure that your child has plenty of fluids to avoid a lack of fluid in the body (dehydration). Children with campylobacter can usually be cared for at home. Occasionally, admission to hospital is needed if symptoms are severe, or if complications develop.
The following are commonly advised until symptoms ease:
You should encourage your child to take plenty of fluids. The aim is to prevent dehydration. The fluid lost in their vomit and/or diarrhoea needs to be replaced. Your child should continue with their normal diet and usual drinks. In addition, they should also be encouraged to drink extra fluids. However, avoid fruit juices or fizzy drinks as these can make diarrhoea worse.
Babies under six months old are at increased risk of dehydration. You should seek medical advice if they develop gastroenteritis. Breast or bottle feeds should be encouraged as normal. You may find that your baby's demand for feeds increases. You may also be advised to give extra fluids (either water or rehydration drinks) in between feeds.
Rehydration drinks may be advised by a doctor, for children at increased risk of dehydration (see above for who this may be). They are made from sachets available from pharmacies and on prescription. You should be given instructions about how much to give. Rehydration drinks provide a perfect balance of water, salts, and sugar. The small amount of sugar and salt helps the water to be absorbed better from the gut (intestines) into the body. Do not use home-made salt/sugar drinks, as the quantity of salt and sugar has to be exact.
If your child is sick (vomits), wait 5-10 minutes and then start giving drinks again, but more slowly (for example, a spoonful every 2-3 minutes). Use of a syringe can help in younger children who may not be able to take sips.
Note: if you suspect that your child is dehydrated, or is becoming dehydrated, you should seek medical advice.
If your child is mildly dehydrated, this may be treated by giving them rehydration drinks. Your doctor or nurse will advise about how to make up the drinks and about how much to give. The amount can depend on the age and the weight of your child. If you are breast-feeding, you should continue with this during this time. Otherwise, don't give your child any other drinks unless the doctor or nurse has said that this is OK. It is important that your child is rehydrated before they have any solid food.
Sometimes a child needs admission to hospital if they are dehydrated. Treatment in hospital usually involves giving rehydration solution via a special tube called a 'nasogastric tube'. This tube passes through your child's nose, down their throat and directly into their stomach. An alternative treatment is with intravenous fluids (fluids given directly into a vein).
Correcting any dehydration is the first priority. However, if your child is not dehydrated (most cases), or once any dehydration has been corrected, then encourage your child to have their normal diet. Do not 'starve' a child with gastroenteritis. This used to be advised but is now known to be wrong. So:
You should not give medicines to stop diarrhoea to children under 12 years old. They sound attractive remedies, but are unsafe to give to children, due to possible serious complications. However, you can give paracetamol or ibuprofen to ease a high temperature or tummy (abdominal) pains. If infection is severe, a course antibiotic medicine is sometimes needed.
Symptoms often settle within a few days or so as your immune system usually clears the infection. Occasionally, admission to hospital is needed if symptoms are severe or if complications develop (see below).
The following are commonly advised until symptoms ease:
The aim is to prevent lack of fluid in the body (dehydration) or to treat dehydration if it has developed. (Note: if you suspect that you are dehydrated, you should contact a doctor.)
For most adults, fluids drunk to keep hydrated should mainly be water, Also, ideally, include some fruit juice and soups. It is best not to have drinks that contain a lot of sugar, such as cola or pop, as they can sometimes make diarrhoea worse.
Rehydration drinks are recommended for people who are frail, or over the age of 60, or who have underlying health problems. They are made from sachets that you can buy from pharmacies. (The sachets are also available on prescription.) You add the contents of the sachet to water. Rehydration drinks provide a good balance of water, salts, and sugar. The small amount of sugar and salt helps the water to be absorbed better from the gut (intestines) into the body. They do not stop or reduce diarrhoea. Do not use home-made salt/sugar drinks, as the quantity of salt and sugar has to be exact.
It used to be advised to 'starve' for a while if you had gastroenteritis. However, now it is advised to eat small, light meals if you can. Be guided by your appetite. You may not feel like food and most adults can do without food for a few days. Eat as soon as you are able - but don't stop drinking. If you do feel like eating, avoid fatty, spicy or heavy food at first. Plain foods such as wholemeal bread and rice are good foods to try eating first.
Antidiarrhoeal medicines are not usually necessary. However, a medicine called loperamide may be advised in some situations. For example, to help you over a special event such as a wedding, or it you have difficulty reaching the toilet quickly. Loperamide works by slowing down your gut's activity and it can reduce the number of trips that you need to make to the toilet. You can buy loperamide from pharmacies. The adult dose of loperamide is two capsules at first. This is followed by one capsule after each time you pass some diarrhoea, up to a maximum of eight capsules in 24 hours. You should not take loperamide for longer than five days.
Note: although loperamide is usually safe, there have been reports of very serious gut problems developing in some people who have taken loperamide. These problems were mainly in people who had severe inflammation of the gut. So, do not use loperamide or any other antidiarrhoeal medicine if you pass blood or mucus with the diarrhoea or if you have a high temperature (fever). Also, people with certain conditions should not take loperamide. Therefore, to be safe, read the leaflet that comes with the medicine. For example, pregnant women should not take loperamide.
Paracetamol or ibuprofen are useful to ease a high temperature or headache. A course of antibiotic medicine is sometimes needed to treat campylobacter if the infection is severe.
If you (or your child) have campylobacter, the following are recommended to prevent the spread of infection to others:
If you have campylobacter infection and you work with vulnerable groups of people such as the elderly, the unwell or the young, you should inform your employer.
Complications are uncommon in the UK. They are more likely in the very young, in pregnant women, or in the elderly. They are also more likely if you have an ongoing (chronic) condition such as diabetes or if your immune system is compromised in some way; for example, if you are taking long-term steroid medication or you are having chemotherapy treatment for cancer. Possible complications include the following:
If you suspect that you (or your child) have campylobacter or any other type of food poisoning from eating takeaway or restaurant food, you should report this to your local Environmental Health Office. This is so that the business can be investigated by environmental health officers and further action may be taken if there is a problem with their food hygiene practices. This will hopefully help to reduce the chance that other people will get food poisoning. You can find your local food standards enforcer at http://www.food.gov.uk/enforcement/enforceessential/yourarea/ .
If your doctor suspects that you have food poisoning, or campylobacter infection is confirmed from your stool (faeces) sample, they are also required by law to report this.
The Foods Standards Agency in the UK has identified the '4 Cs' to help prevent food poisoning, including food poisoning caused by campylobacter:
To help avoid campylobacter infection, you should also wash your hands after touching pets or animals, after visiting farms and after gardening.
You should also make sure that you only drink pasteurised or boiled milk and avoid drinking water thought to be unsafe (including avoiding drinks containing ice cubes that may have been made from unsafe water).
This is when bacteria pass from foods (commonly raw foods) to other foods. It can occur if foods touch directly, if one food drips on to another, if your hands, or utensils or equipment - such as knives or chopping boards - touch one food and then another.