Causes of campylobacteriosis (Campylobacter)

Learn about the causes of campylobacteriosis, how it is spread and where it is found.

On this page

The cause of campylobacteriosis

Campylobacteriosis is an infection caused by the Campylobacter bacteria.

How campylobacteriosis is spread

Campylobacter bacteria can be spread through contaminated food or beverages, such as:

  • shellfish
  • raw eggs
  • untreated drinking water
  • raw or undercooked meat, such as:
    • beef
    • pork
    • lamb
    • poultry
  • unpasteurized dairy products, like milk
  • raw fruits and vegetables (and their juices)

It can also be spread through contact with:

  • infected animals, such as:
    • dogs and cats
    • livestock, including:
      • pigs
      • cattle
      • sheep
      • poultry
    • animals at a petting zoo
  • a person sick with campylobacteriosis
    • you can be contagious from several days to weeks
  • contaminated lakes, rivers and creeks
  • food or surfaces contaminated by the bacteria
    • you can spread Campylobacter between foods and food preparation surfaces if you do not follow proper food handling practices

Both animals and people can be carriers of Campylobacter. This means they are infected with the bacteria and can spread the illness to others without showing signs of sickness.

How food and water become contaminated

Food can become contaminated with Campylobacter bacteria:

  • if it is handled by a person who:
    • does not properly wash their hands after taking care of someone who is sick from the bacteria
    • is infected with the bacteria and has not properly washed their hands after using the bathroom
    • has prepared food on a surface that came into contact with foods or water containing the bacteria
    • did not properly wash their hands after preparing raw meat, fruits or vegetables, or handling pets or livestock
  • during the growing or harvesting of fruits and vegetables
    • contamination is possible if the produce comes into contact with manure or water containing the bacteria
  • during the butchering and processing of raw meat

Milk can contain Campylobacter if it has not undergone pasteurization. This is because it can become contaminated from the cow if:

  • its udder is infected with the bacteria
  • the milk was contaminated with affected manure

Lakes, rivers, creeks and untreated water can become contaminated with manure from animals infected with the bacteria.

Where campylobacteriosis is found

Campylobacter bacteria are commonly found in the intestines of:

  • pigs
  • cows
  • chickens
  • wild birds
  • family pets, like cats and dogs

The bacteria have also been found in untreated surface water that has been contaminated by sewage or manure. This includes bodies of water such as lakes, rivers and creeks.

Page details

Date modified: