For health professionals treating campylobacteriosis (Campylobacter)

Find detailed information on campylobacteriosis for health professionals.

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What health professionals need to know about campylobacteriosis

Campylobacter infections are a major source of gastroenteritis worldwide, both in developed and developing countries. In Canada, Campylobacter is the main cause of gastrointestinal illness.

There are currently 26 different Campylobacter species and 9 subspecies. Of these, Campylobacter jejuni and Campylobacter coli are the most frequently reported to cause human illness.

Infections show seasonal trends, with most cases occurring in late summer and early fall in developed countries. The reason behind this pattern is not fully understood.

Infection occurs after consuming or coming into contact with contaminated food, water or animals carrying Campylobacter. Campylobacteriosis is primarily associated with improper handling and consumption of raw meat, specifically poultry.

Campylobacter can be commonly found on chicken carcasses at slaughter and on chicken products sold at retail stores. Cross-contamination from chicken can easily occur during food preparation. In addition, consumption of unpasteurized milk and milk products has been associated with Campylobacter illnesses in Canada and the U.S.

The majority of cases are sporadic, with outbreaks accounting for only a small number of cases. In developing countries, infections are endemic, with the majority of symptomatic cases occurring in young children. Asymptomatic cases in adults and children are common.

Clinical manifestations

A large number of Campylobacter infections are asymptomatic or mild, with few cases requiring treatment or hospitalization.

When present, the most common symptoms last 2 to 10 days and include:

  • fever
  • cramps
  • weight loss
  • acute watery or bloody diarrhea

Recurrence can occur among cases.

Other symptoms may include:

  • nausea
  • malaise
  • vomiting

Campylobacter has been associated with post-infection sequelae, most commonly Guillain-Barré syndrome and reactive arthritis. However, infection with Campylobacter can also lead to:

  • meningitis (infection of the brain and spinal cord)
  • chronic colitis (inflammation of the colon)
  • sudden gall bladder inflammation
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • appendicitis-like pains

Diagnosis

Campylobacter infections can only be confirmed by culturing and identification of these bacteria from stool. Serologic tests can identify recent Campylobacter infections.

Treatment

As most infections are self-limiting, no specific treatment is required for the majority of Campylobacter cases. In the event of dehydration due to vomiting and diarrhea, oral replacement of fluid and electrolytes might be necessary.

Antimicrobials are recommended only when:

  • the infections are severe or prolonged
  • cases have been identified as immunocompromised

The recommended antimicrobial is azithromycin, with ciprofloxacin as an alternative. Antimicrobial susceptibility information should be used to guide appropriate therapy. This is because antimicrobial resistance to these antimicrobials may be commonly found among these bacteria.

Campylobacteriosis surveillance in Canada

Campylobacteriosis has been a nationally notifiable disease in Canada since 1986. Canadian health professionals play a critical role in identifying and reporting cases of campylobacteriosis to their provincial or territorial public health authorities. See the surveillance of campylobacteriosis section for more information on surveillance in Canada.

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