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Campylobacter infection

5-minute read

Key facts

  • Campylobacter infection (also called campylobacteriosis) is a bacterial infection that usually affects your digestive system.
  • Your symptoms may include stomach cramps and diarrhoea that can last for 1 to 2 weeks.
  • You are more likely to pick up campylobacter infection if you are very young or elderly, have an impaired immune system or if you are malnourished.
  • If you have campylobacter infection, you should rest and drink plenty of fluids.
  • See your doctor if your symptoms are severe, and if your child is under 12 months old, take them to the doctor if they have any symptoms of campylobacter infection.

What is campylobacter infection?

Campylobacter infection (also called campylobacteriosis) is a bacterial infection. You may have stomach cramps and diarrhoea lasting for 1 to 2 weeks. Most people recover with rest and drinking enough fluids, but some people may also need antibiotics. In rare cases, campylobacter may cause other illnesses.

What are the symptoms of campylobacter infection?

Symptoms usually start between 2 and 5 days after infection. The illness usually starts with a fever, followed by stomach cramps and diarrhoea, which might be bloody. You usually don’t vomit.

The illness generally lasts for 1 or 2 weeks.

What causes campylobacter infection?

Campylobacter infection is caused by the campylobacter bacteria. Unlike other bacteria that cause food poisoning, campylobacter doesn’t often cause outbreaks of gastroenteritis that affect many people. It usually causes only isolated cases of illness.

You can be infected with campylobacter if you:

  • eat contaminated food (mainly poultry)
  • drink contaminated water or unpasteurised milk
  • have contact with someone who has campylobacter
  • have contact with contaminated pets or farm animals

You are more likely to pick up campylobacter infection if you:

When should I see my doctor?

If your child is under 12 months old, take them to the doctor if they have any symptoms of campylobacter infection.

If you’re an adult or older child, you should see a doctor if you have any of the following:

  • signs of dehydration, such as decreased urination, lethargy or dry mouth
  • fever
  • bloody diarrhoea
  • severe stomach pain

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

How is campylobacter infection diagnosed?

Campylobacter infection can only be diagnosed accurately with pathology testing of your stool (poo) or blood sample. Your doctor will probably ask for a sample only if you are very unwell or if there is blood in your stools.

Campylobacter infection is a notifiable disease. This means that if a lab finds campylobacter in your stool sample, they are required to tell the local health department.

How is campylobacter treated?

Most people recover in about a week without medical treatment, although it can take up to 2 weeks to fully recover.

Follow these tips to treat campylobacter infection:

  • Rest and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Continue to breastfeed your baby throughout their illness.
  • Oral rehydration solution is recommended for children to prevent dehydration.
  • Avoid taking anti-vomiting or anti-diarrhoeal medications unless they are recommended to you by your doctor.
  • See your doctor if your symptoms are severe, as you might need a prescription ford antibiotics.

Can I prevent campylobacter?

You can reduce your chance of campylobacter infection by avoiding risky foods and practising good personal hygiene. Thoroughly cook meat, poultry and eggs — never eat poultry if it is still pink in the middle.

Prepare, cook and store your food safely. Safe food handling and storage will avoid spreading bacteria from one infected food item to other foods — for example, from raw chicken to fresh food. Always wash your hands after handling raw poultry and other meat.

To prevent the spread of campylobacter, you should also:

  • Keep yourself or your child away from work, school or day care for at least 24 hours after the symptoms of diarrhoea have disappeared.
  • Avoid swimming until for at least 24 hours after the symptoms of diarrhoea have disappeared.
  • Wash your hands after patting your pet or farm animals.
  • Seek veterinary treatment for your pet if it has diarrhoea.
  • If you swim with your baby, dress them in well-fitting waterproof pants.

What are the complications of campylobacter infection?

Very occasionally, people with campylobacter infection develop complications including:

  • Guillain–Barré syndrome — a nervous disorder that causes weakness or paralysis, often for several weeks or months
  • reactive arthritis — joint swelling and pain that usually lasts for 3 to 12 months
  • sepsis (septicaemia or blood poisoning)
  • intestinal complications such as appendicitis, acute pancreatitis or acute cholecystitis (inflammation of your gallbladder)

Resources and support

For further information please call your local Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055 or visit the New South Wales Health Campylobacteriosis fact sheet.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2023


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