Bowel infection (Campylobacteriosis)

Campylobacteriosis is a bowel infection caused by the bacteria Campylobacter (pronounced camp-eye-lo-bac-ter).

How it is spread

Most people become infected by handling or eating raw or undercooked poultry.

Animals can be infected and some people have acquired the infection from contact with the faeces of an infected animal.

Campylobacter can also be spread by eating food or drinking water that has been contaminated by very small amounts of faeces from infected animals or people.

Person-to-person transmission is however uncommon.

Symptoms

The symptoms develop between 1-10 days, most commonly 2-5 days, after the person is exposed.

Symptoms include diarrhoea (sometimes with blood), abdominal pains, cramps, or fever, nausea and vomiting.

Most people recover within 2 to 5 days although sometimes it may take up to 10 days. Some infected people have no symptoms at all.

Infectious period

While the Campylobacter bacteria remain in their faeces, infected people can pass the infection onto others.  This can be from a few days to weeks after the symptoms have gone.  

The risk of infecting others decreases markedly after the diarrhoea has settled.

Who is at risk

Anyone can become infected with Campylobacter, however the young, the elderly and malnourished people are most at risk of contracting severe disease.

Travellers to developing countries where sanitation and hygiene standards are poor are at high risk of contracting diarrhoeal disease.

Treatment

Antibiotics are not usually recommended, nor required, except in severe cases. 

Management focuses on preventing and treating dehydration caused by vomiting or diarrhoea. Anyone with vomiting or diarrhoea should drink extra fluids to avoid dehydration. 

Rehydration therapy with oral glucose / electrolyte solution is particularly effective. If children refuse this solution, diluted fruit juice may be given (1 part juice to 4 parts water).

Babies should continue to be offered their normal feeds plus extra fluids in between feeds.

Children with diarrhoea who vomit or who refuse extra fluids should see a doctor. Anyone with prolonged or severe diarrhoea, or who has symptoms causing concern, should see a doctor.

Medicines to prevent vomiting or diarrhoea should not be given, especially to children, except when prescribed by a doctor.

Prevention

Good hygiene and food handling practices are the best way to prevent campylobacteriosis.

Hands should be washed thoroughly with warm soapy water:

  • after going to the toilet
  • before preparing or handling food
  • after handling raw poultry and meats
  • after every nappy change
  • after changing soiled linen
  • after touching animals.

In the kitchen:

  • cook all poultry/meats thoroughly before eating
  • use separate cutting boards for meat and other foods
  • carefully clean all cutting boards, counter tops and utensils with soap and hot water after preparing meat
  • avoid drinking unpasteurised milk and untreated surface water (e.g. from creeks and billabongs).

Other measures include:

  • never changing nappies on tables or counters where food is prepared or eaten
  • cleaning change areas with warm soapy water and disinfectant after every nappy change
  • cleaning books, toys, equipment, furnishings, floors and toilets regularly (including toilet door handles).

How it can be controlled

Anyone with diarrhoea should not attend work until the diarrhoea has ceased. People with diarrhoea should not prepare or handle food that will be eaten by others.

Children with diarrhoea should not attend childcare or school until there has not been a loose bowel motion for 24 hours

Anyone with diarrhoea should not swim, wade or paddle in public pools.

Doctors and public health workers are interested in preventing outbreaks of diarrhoea. If there are 2 or more cases of diarrhoea in a group, these should be reported to the local Centre for Disease Control.

Contact

For more information contact your nearest Centre for Disease Control.

Last updated: 27 June 2017