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Campylobacter Infections

What Is Campylobacter?

Campylobacter is a bacteria (type of germ). Someone with a Campylobacter (kam-pih-lo-BAK-tur) infection might have diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and cramps. With rest and plenty of fluids, most people feel better within a week.

How Do Campylobacter Infections Happen?

Campylobacter infections usually happen because someone ate or drank something contaminated with the feces (poop) from an infected animal. This can happen when they:

  • Eat raw or undercooked poultry (chicken or turkey).
  • Eat food that touched knives or cutting boards that had raw poultry or meat on them.
  • Drink unpasteurized (raw) milk.
  • Eat vegetables that haven’t been washed well.

A person also can get infected if they touch poop with the bacteria in it and then get it in their mouth. This can happen from swimming in or drinking contaminated water or by touching an infected pet or farm animal.

It is not common for someone to get a Campylobacter infection from another person. But coming into close contact with someone else’s poop (for example, when changing diapers) can lead to an infection.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Campylobacter Infections?

Kids with Campylobacter infections have diarrhea (sometimes with blood in it), fever, and belly pain. Rarely, an infection can lead to seizures, blood infection (called bacteremia), arthritis, and other medical problems.

How Are Campylobacter Infections Diagnosed?

If a child has diarrhea, especially bloody diarrhea, doctors can do a stool test to check for Campylobacter bacteria. Sometimes they also order blood tests to check for bacteremia.

How Are Campylobacter Infections Treated?

Kids with a Campylobacter infection should drink lots of fluids so that they don’t get dehydrated. They should also rest as needed. Don’t give anti-diarrhea medicines as some can make the diarrhea worse.

Doctors may prescribe antibiotics for young children or babies, children with a weak immune system, or kids who have severe or long-lasting diarrhea.

Can Campylobacter Infections Be Prevented?

Some precautions can help prevent Campylobacter infections. Be sure to:

  • Cook poultry and meat to temperatures that kill any bacteria.
  • Wash all cutting boards, utensils, and counters that have touched raw poultry or meat. Even a very small bit of raw juices can spread an infection.
  • Make sure all milk products are pasteurized.
  • Everyone in your family should wash their hands well and often. This is especially important after going to the bathroom, and before preparing or eating foods.

Because Campylobacter bacteria can be on food and in water:

  • Clean fruits and vegetables well before eating.
  • Only drink water that has been tested and approved for purity (especially in developing countries). While hiking and camping, don't drink water from streams or rivers. 

When caring for someone who has diarrhea, wash your hands well and often, especially before touching other people and before eating or preparing food. Clean toilets after the person with diarrhea uses them. Also, if a pet dog or cat has diarrhea, wash your hands often and check with the veterinarian about treatment.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

Call your doctor if your child:

  • has diarrhea with blood in it
  • has diarrhea that lasts longer than a week
  • is vomiting
  • shows any signs of dehydration, such as peeing less often, dry mouth, few or no tears, or sunken eyes
  • has new or worsening belly pain
  • has a high fever
  • has joint pain

You know your child best. Call the doctor if your child has any other signs that concern you.

Reviewed by: Amy W. Anzilotti, MD
Date Reviewed: Nov 2, 2022

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