Campylobacter is the most frequent cause of bacterial food borne illness in the United States. Approximately, 3,000 cases were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2003, or 12.6 cases for each 100,000 persons in the population. Millions of more cases go undiagnosed and unreported each year. Poultry is the most common food implicated. Other foods include unpasteurized milk, undercooked meats, mushrooms, ground beef, cheese, pork, shellfish, and eggs. The majority of Campylobacter infection cases arise as isolated, sporadic events, not as part of large outbreaks.
The period between exposure to the bacteria and onset of the first symptom is generally two to five days, but onset may happen in as few as two days or as long as 10 days after ingestion of the bacteria. The illness typically lasts no more than one week but severe cases may continue for up to three weeks, and roughly 25% of individuals experience relapses of symptoms. Diarrhea is the most consistent and prominent sign of Campylobacter infection and is often bloody. Typical symptoms may also include fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, headache, and muscle pain. A bulk of cases are for the most part mild, and often do not require hospitalization, and are self-limited.
On the other hand, there is a possibility that Campylobacter can be severe and life threatening. The illness may cause appendicitis or infect additional organs as well as the blood stream. It is estimated that one in 1,000 cases of Campylobacter infections result in death. Death is more common when other diseases (for example, cancer, liver disease, and immune deficiency diseases) are present.
Health care providers can look for bacterial causes of diarrhea by asking a laboratory to culture a stool sample from an ill person. Campylobacter is by and large a self-limited illness, and the affected person should drink plenty of fluids as long as the diarrhea lasts in order to maintain hydration. Antidiarrheal medications such as Loperamide may alleviate some symptoms. Specific treatment with antibiotics is sometimes indicated, particularly in severe cases, and may shorten the course of the illness. Macrolide antibiotics (Erythromycin, Clarithromycin, or Azithromycin) are the most effective agents. Fluoroquinolone antibiotics (ciprofloxacin, levofloxacin, gatifloxacin, or moxifloxacin) can also be used, but resistance to this class of drugs has been rising, at least in part due to their use in poultry feed. Consultation with a health care provider is recommended prior to taking anti-diarrheal medications or antibiotics.
Long-term consequences and complications can sometimes result from a Campylobacter infection. Some people can develop a rare disease that affects the nerves of the body following infection. This disease is called Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). It begins several weeks after the diarrheal illness, and may last for weeks to months, often requiring intensive care. Full recovery is common but some affected individuals may be left with mild to severe neurological damage. Miller Fisher Syndrome (MFS) is a related neurological syndrome that can occur with a Campylobacter infection. In MFS, the nerves of the head are affected more than the nerves of the body. Another chronic ailment that can be associated with Campylobacter infection is a form of reactive arthritis called Reiter’s syndrome (RS). RS typically affects large weight-bearing joints such as the knees and the lower back.
The single most important step in preventing Campylobacter infection is to adequately cook all poultry products. Make sure that the thickest part of the bird (the center of the breast) reaches 180°F or higher. It is recommended that the temperature reach at least 165°F for stuffing and 170°F for ground poultry products, and that thighs and wings be cooked until juices run clear. Do not cook stuffing inside the bird.
Additional Prevention Steps
- Transport meat and poultry home from the market in the coolest part of the vehicle (generally the trunk in winter and cab in summer).
- Defrost meat and poultry in the refrigerator.
- Place the item on a low shelf, on a wide pan, lined with paper towel; ensure that drippings do not land on foods below. If there is not enough time to defrost in the refrigerator, use the microwave.
- Rapidly cool leftovers.
- Never leave food out at room temperature (either during preparation or after cooking) for more than 2 hours.
- Avoid raw milk products.
- Wash fruits and vegetables carefully, particularly if they are eaten raw. If possible, vegetables and fruits should be peeled.
- Wash hands thoroughly using soap and water, concentrate on fingertips and nail creases, and dry completely with a disposable paper towel after contact with pets, especially puppies, or farm animals; before and after preparing food, especially poultry; and after changing diapers or having contact with an individual with an intestinal infection.
- Children should wash their hands on arrival home from school or daycare.
Need Legal Help Regarding Campylobacter Food Poisoning Lawsuit?
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with the bacterial food borne illness Campylobacter and you have suffered serious health ailments, please fill out the form at the right for a free case evaluation. Alternatively, call our toll free number: 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).