Campylobacteriosis is an infectious disease primarily caused by Campylobacter jejuni and, less commonly, C. coli and C. lari. Campylobacter is one of the most common causes of diarrheal illness in the United States. Campylobacter occurs much more frequently in the summer months than in the winter.

The time frame from ingesting the bacteria to feeling ill is call the “incubation period”. The incubation period for Campylobacter is usually two to five days, but can be longer. Campylobacter is an acute diarrheal disease of variable severity. Cases are characterized by diarrhea (frequently bloody), abdominal pain, malaise, fever, and nausea and/or vomiting. In neonates, bloody diarrhea may be the only symptom. Mild illnesses last one to two days and most cases resolve in approximately one week. In very rare instances, post-infection or post-illness complications include reactive arthritis, febrile convulsions, or Guillain-Barre syndrome (an acute febrile polyneuritis). Campylobacter may mimic acute appendicitis or inflammatory bowel disease.

Campylobacter usually occurs in single, sporadic cases, but it can also occur in outbreaks. Most cases of Campylobacter are associated with eating raw or undercooked poultry, meat or from cross-contamination of other foods by these items. Outbreaks of Campylobacter have most often been associated with unpasteurized dairy products, contaminated water, poultry, and produce. Person-to-person spread of Campylobacter occasionally occurs, primarily in young children with diarrhea. While outbreaks of diarrhea in child care centers have been reported, they are uncommon. Infected individuals may shed Campylobacter bacteria in the feces for two to three weeks, but can be as long as seven weeks. Treatment with the appropriate antibiotic(s) typically shortens the duration of communicability to two to three days.

The bacteria are present in the gastrointestinal tract of animals, both domestic (chickens, cattle, hamsters, kittens, puppies, sheep, swine, etc.) and wild (water fowl, rodents, etc.). People can get infected from contact with the contaminated stool from a sick animal, dog or cat.

Tips for preventing the spread of this illness can be found on our tips page. To reduce the potential spread of Campylobacter additional control measures may be required for persons associated with high-risk activities or settings such as food handlers, childcare facilities, and health care workers. Specific guidance and recommendations can be found in a manual titled Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases. Additional guidance for retail food establishment management can be found in Chapter 2 of the food code.

For additional information on Campylobacter, please visit the following references: Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention website and FDA’s Bad Bug Book. For data on reported Campylobacter cases in Missouri, visit the communicable disease data and statistical reports page for the annual reports listed there.