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

A new approach to developing a vaccine against vivax malaria

September 21, 2018
A novel study reports an innovative approach for developing a vaccine against Plasmodium vivax, the most prevalent human malaria parasite outside sub-Saharan Africa. The study led by Hernando A. del Portillo and Carmen Fernandez-Becerra, ...

Pre-clinical success for a universal flu vaccine offers hope for third generation approach

September 21, 2018
Researchers from the University of Oxford's Department of Zoology have demonstrated pre-clinical success for a universal flu vaccine in a new paper published in Nature Communications.

Researchers define possible molecular pathway for neurodegeneration in prion diseases

September 21, 2018
A new study has shed light on the mechanisms underlying the progression of prion diseases and identified a potential target for treatment.

Fighting a deadly parasite: Scientists devise a method to store Cryptosporidium, aiding vaccine research efforts

September 21, 2018
In May, just before one of the hottest summers on record, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning about diseases lurking in recreational water facilities like swimming pools and water playgrounds. ...

Scientists make significant discovery in the fight against drug-resistant tuberculosis

September 20, 2018
A team of scientists have identified a naturally occurring antibiotic that may help in the fight against drug-resistant Tuberculosis.

Anti-cancer drugs may hold key to overcoming antimalarial drug resistance

September 20, 2018
Scientists have found a way to boost the efficacy of the world's most powerful antimalarial drug with the help of chemotherapy medicines, according to new research published in the journal Nature Communications.

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.