Campylobacter and Campylobacteriosis Foodborne Disease

Diarrhea Caused by Eating Rare Chicken or Unpasteurized Milk

Close-up of raw chicken with ingredients
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Have you ever wondered why it’s important to keep separate cutting boards for meat and produce? Blame Campylobacter, a diarrhea-causing microbe that can be found in raw chicken.

Did you know? Campylobacter is one of the leading causes of bacterial diarrhea in the United States.

Species Names: Campylobacter jejuni

Type of Microbe: Gram-negative bacteria

Diseases: Campylobacteriosis, gastroenteritis

How it Spreads: Campylobacter is usually caused by consumption of raw milk and poultry.

It can also be spread in water, and infrequently from person-to-person, or the fecal-oral route. Infection can also occur in animals and be spread to humans through contact with cat or dog feces.

Who’s at Risk? All people are at risk, but infants and young adults are more prone to getting the infection. Drinking raw milk and eating undercooked chicken also increases the risk. There is also an increased risk in owners of farm animals. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Campylobacter infections affect more than 2.4 million people every year, of whom an estimated 124 people die from the infection. Infections are more common in the summer than winter.

Symptoms: Diarrhea (sometimes bloody), cramping, abdominal pain, and fever; sometimes nausea and vomiting. Symptoms begin 2 to 5 days after exposure and last about 7 to 10 days.

Diagnosis: Gram-stain and culture of stool

Prognosis: The infection is usually limited, with symptoms lasting about 7 to 10 days.

Treatment: Usually no treatment is needed, but some antibiotics (erythromycin or fluoroquinolone) may improve recovery time.

Prevention: Thorough cooking of poultry; keeping separate cutting boards for meat and produce; avoiding unpasteurized milk; handwashing and good hygiene; use of clean water and sanitation systems.

There is no vaccine available.

How it Causes Disease: How Campylobacter causes disease is not completely understood, but it may involve the use of a toxin or through invading intestinal tissue.

Immunity: The precise immune response to Campylobacter is not completely understood. Because the symptoms appear relatively quickly after exposure, before the body can make antibodies, it is believed that the innate immune response is involved.

Complications: A small percentage of infected people develop arthritis or Guillain-Barre syndrome, a nervous system disease that may result in paralysis.


Campylobacter General Information. CDC DFBMD.

Campylobacter jejuni. FDA Bad Bug Book. Foodborne Pathogenic Microorganisms and Natural Toxins Handbook.

Iovine NM, et al. Reactive Nitrogen Species Contribute to Innate Host Defense against Campylobacter jejuni. Infection and Immunity. 2008; 76:986.

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