What is campylobacter, and what are we doing about it?

April 1, 2015, North Carolina State University
Scanning electron micrograph of Campylobacter jejuni. Credit: De Wood, Pooley, USDA's Agricultural Research Service.

Campylobacters are spiral-shaped bacteria that often colonize the intestines of animals grown for food (as well as other animals)—and they can cause acute diarrheal disease (called campylobacteriosis) in humans.

These bacteria, especially the species C. jejuni and C. coli, are a leading bacterial cause of foodborne disease, resulting in an estimated 800,000 cases of illness annually in the United States alone. Campylobacteriosis is most commonly attributed to the consumption of undercooked poultry, unpasteurized milk, and untreated water. These products generally become vehicles for Campylobacter via fecal contamination. For instance, Campylobacter in the intestines of poultry can contaminate poultry carcasses during the evisceration process at the slaughterhouse, and milk can become contaminated by animal feces as a result of unsanitary procedures during milking.

Symptoms of campylobacteriosis generally last from two to 10 days and include severe abdominal cramping, diarrhea (sometimes bloody) and vomiting. Symptoms usually subside without medical treatment. But there can be severe autoimmune complications, such as reactive arthritis and Guillain-Barré syndrome (a form of paralysis) may follow as many as 1 in every 1,000 C. jejuni infections.

Immunocompromised patients or those in which the bacteria have entered the bloodstream can benefit from treatment with antibiotics including macrolides (e.g. erythromycin or azithromycin) or fluoroquinolones (e.g. ciprofloxacin). However, we are observing increased resistance in Campylobacter to a number of antibiotics.

The best ways to prevent campylobacteriosis are to: practice safe handling techniques in the kitchen (especially in regard to preventing cross-contamination of ready-to-eat foods with raw poultry); thoroughly cook (to 165°F—use a meat thermometer!) poultry and other meat products; and avoid unpasteurized dairy products and . [Editor's note: the "raw milk" point is particularly timely, as was recently linked to an outbreak of campylbacteriosis in California.]

NC State is actively involved in research on this issue and has partnered with the food industry to better understand and control Campylobacter. Food safety researcher Sophia Kathariou's lab has partnered with science researcher Donna Carver to conduct research on how growers can produce turkeys that are free of Campylobacter or only carry the bacterium in small amounts.

Between 60-80 percent of poultry flocks worldwide are positive for Campylobacter, so simply reducing this number could have a major effect on public health. Additionally, these NC State researchers are investigating antibiotic resistance trends in Campylobacter from commercial turkey flocks.

The research being done at NC State will add to our base of knowledge about the genes responsible for resistance, how prevalent resistance is in Campylobacter found in our food supply, and how to eliminate or reduce Campylobacter from . Such knowledge is critically needed for development of science-based strategies to enhance the safety of food and reduce the public health threat posed by antimicrobial resistance in foodborne pathogens such as Campylobacter.

Explore further: Salmonella and Campylobacter show significant levels of resistance to common antimicrobials in humans and animals

More information: For more tips on safe food handling techniques, you can visit www.foodsafety.gov/keep/basics/separate/

Related Stories

Salmonella and Campylobacter show significant levels of resistance to common antimicrobials in humans and animals

February 28, 2015
Treatment options for some of the most common food-borne infections are decreasing, as types of bacteria (called 'isolates') continue to show resistance to antimicrobial drugs. For example, multi-drug resistant isolates of ...

Food poisonings up from raw milk, poultry bacteria

April 18, 2013
(AP)—Health officials are seeing more food poisonings caused by a bacteria commonly linked to raw milk and poultry.

Hot Pot with chicken causes campylobacter infections in Switzerland

July 3, 2014
In Switzerland, between 7000 and 8000 persons fall ill with a campylobacter infection annually. This makes it the most frequent bacterial disease transmitted through food. Contamination of chicken meat with campylobacter ...

Standards aim to cut down on salmonella in poultry

January 21, 2015
The government is pushing the poultry industry to make their chicken and turkey a little safer with new standards aimed at reducing the number of cases of foodborne illness by 50,000 a year.

U.S. officials pinpoint common sources of foodborne illnesses

February 24, 2015
(HealthDay)—Beef, dairy, fruit and certain types of vegetables are among the most common sources for the four major types of foodborne illness that strike nearly 2 million Americans each year, a U.S. government report finds.

Recommended for you

Study reveals new therapeutic target for slowing the spread of flu virus

June 22, 2018
Influenza A (flu A) hijacks host proteins for viral RNA splicing and blocking these interactions caused replication of the virus to slow, according to new research published in Nature Communications by Kristin W. Lynch, Ph.D., ...

First ancient syphilis genomes decoded

June 21, 2018
An international research team, including scientists from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, the University of Tübingen, the National School of Anthropology and History in Mexico City, and the University ...

Rhesus macaque model offers route to study Zika brain pathology

June 21, 2018
Rhesus macaque monkeys infected in utero with Zika virus develop similar brain pathology to human infants, according to a report by researchers at the California National Primate Research Center and School of Veterinary Medicine ...

California Aedes mosquitoes capable of spreading Zika

June 21, 2018
Over the last five years, Zika virus has emerged as a significant global human health threat following outbreaks in South and Central America. Now, researchers reporting in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases have shown that ...

Breakthrough treatment for crippling jaw disease created

June 20, 2018
A first-ever tissue implant to safely treat a common jaw defect, known as temporomandibular joint dysfunction, has been successfully tested by UCI-led researchers in a large animal model, according to new findings.

Cell-free DNA profiling informative way to monitor urinary tract infections

June 20, 2018
Using shotgun DNA sequencing, Cornell University researchers have demonstrated a new method for monitoring urinary tract infections (UTIs) that surpasses traditional methods in providing valuable information about the dynamics ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.