Pathogen Safety Data Sheets: Infectious Substances – Campylobacter coli



NAME: Campylobacter coli

SYNONYM OR CROSS REFERENCE: Formerly known as Campylobacter fetus subsp. jejuni Footnote 1. Disease known as Campylobacteriosis or Campylobacter enteritis.

CHARACTERISTICS: Campylobacter coli is a microaerobic, non-spore forming, gram-negative, oxidase-positive bacterium of the Camplobacteraceae family. They form motile, spiral shaped rods that are 0.2-0.9 μm wide and 0.5-5 μm long, and moves by a corkscrew-like motion Footnote 2. One unsheathed polar flagella is present at the end (or both ends) of the cell, which gives the bacterium a slender "S" shape, and this spiral appearance is its most distinguishable feature. C. coli grows slowly in culture and have an optimum temperature of 42°C Footnote 3. Old cultures or ones exposed to air for extended periods tend to become spherical or coccoid Footnote 4.


PATHOGENICITY/TOXICITY: Campylobacter coli, along with C. jejuni, is one of the most common species of the genus and is a major agent of gastroenteritis and acute enterocolitis in humans, and also of acute diarrheal illnesses in developed countriesFootnote 2Footnote 4 . Typical symptoms include watery diarrhea that may contain red or white blood cells, inflammatory enterocolitis, abdominal pain, fever, malaise, nausea and vomiting. Symptoms usually last for about a week, with relapses occurring in 5-10% of cases if untreated, and persistent symptoms may be observed in immunocompromised patientsFootnote 3Footnote 4 . A large number of campylobacter infections are asymptomaticFootnote 3 ; however, although the illness is generally mild, many complications can be preceded by enteritis, including bacteremia, hepatitis, cholecystitis, pancreatitis, urinary tract infection, abortion, myocarditis and meningitisFootnote 4 . In developing countries where infections are endemic, the majority of symptomatic cases occur in young children.

EPIDEMIOLOGY: C. coli is of worldwide prevalence, and is common in both developed and developing countries with most outbreaks related to food or water-borne causes Footnote 3Footnote 4. C. coli infections are commonly sporadic and show seasonal trends, with most cases occurring in late summer/early fall in developed countries, although the reason for this pattern is not fully understood Footnote 5. Infection is primarily associated with handling and consumption of raw meat. The majority of cases are sporadic with outbreaks accounting for only a small number of cases Footnote 3Footnote 4Footnote 6. However, there have been outbreaks caused by the distribution of water or milk, which have infected 3000 people at a time Footnote 7

HOST RANGE: Pigs are the main host Footnote 2, humans, avian animals, and a wide range of other animals such as cattle, and sheep can also be infected Footnote 4Footnote 6.

INFECTIOUS DOSE: As low as 500 organisms by ingestion Footnote 7. One volunteer study found that 9000 bacteria were required to infect 50 percent of subjects Footnote 7.

MODE OF TRANSMISSION: Oral ingestion of bacteria from contaminated food (primarily chicken) or contaminated drinking water. Contact with animals and their feces is also a source of infection Footnote 8. The prevalence of campylobacter on chicken carcasses is very high and cross contamination can easily occur during food preparation.

INCUBATION PERIOD: Approximately 1 to 10 days Footnote 6.

COMMUNICABILITY: Low, person-to-person transmission is unusual Footnote 9.


RESERVOIR: Pigs, poultry, cattle, sheep, birds Footnote 4. Nearly all natural water sources are contaminated with C. coli Footnote 2.

ZOONOSIS: Yes – Transmitted from a variety of animals (birds and mammals) Footnote 8. Colonization is commonly observed in poultry, which is a major agent in transmission to humans Footnote 2.

VECTORS: Flies have been suggested as a possible vector Footnote 9.


DRUG SUSCEPTIBILITY: Susceptible to macrolides, fluoroquinolones, aminoglycosides, chloramphenicol, nitrofurantoin and tetracycline Footnote 4. Antibiotic resistant strains are emerging particularly to fluoroquinolones and erythromycin Footnote 10.

DRUG RESISTANCE: Antibiotic resistance strains are emerging particularly to fluoroquinolones, macrolides, trimethoprim, beta lactam antibiotics, including penicillin and most cephalosporins, as well as to tetracycline, quinolone and kanamycin Footnote 7Footnote 10.

SUSCEPTIBILITY TO DISINFECTANTS: Inactivation can be achieved by using >1.5% concentration of NaCl. A related pathogen C. jejuni is susceptible to 10 mg/L iodophor, 1:50 000 quaternary ammonium compound, 0.15% phenolic compound, 70% ethyl alcohol or 0.125% glutaraldehyde all with a contact time of 1 minute or 5mg/L of hypochlorite with a contact time of 5 minutes Footnote 11.

PHYSICAL INACTIVATION: Inactivated by heat (70°C for 1 min), hydrostatic pressure (450 MPa at 15°C for 30 s) Footnote 12, and pH levels below 5.0 and above 9.0 Footnote 2.

SURVIVAL OUTSIDE HOST: Campylobacter cells can enter a viable but nonculturable state (VBNC) when subject to stress. This is thought to improve their survival in the environment Footnote 13. Campylobacter can survive for many weeks in water at 4°C, but only a few days above 15°C Footnote 14, and for 2-10 hours when exposed to drying Footnote 2.


SURVEILLANCE: Monitor for symptoms. Campylobacter infection can be confirmed by culturing and identification of bacteria in stool. Recent Campylobacter infections can be identified using serologic tests Footnote 15.

Note: All diagnostic methods are not necessarily available in all countries.

FIRST AID/TREATMENT: Administer proper antimicrobial therapy. Treatment is primarily supportive as most infections are self-limiting Footnote 4Footnote 16. Antibiotic therapy may be required in more serious cases particularly in young, elderly or immunocompromised patients Footnote 17. Erythromycin is the drug of choice for treating Campylobacter gastroenteritis Footnote 15.




LABORATORY-ACQUIRED INFECTIONS: Yes, several cases have been reported for Campylobacter spp. Footnote 18.

SOURCES/SPECIMENS: Fecal samples, blood and specimens from animals Footnote 4.

PRIMARY HAZARDS: Ingestion or parenteral inoculation of bacteria Footnote 18Footnote 19.

SPECIAL HAZARDS: If contacted during pregnancy, the exposure may have adverse effects on the fetus Footnote 18.


RISK GROUP CLASSIFICATION: Risk Group 2 Footnote 20.

CONTAINMENT REQUIREMENTS: Containment Level 2 facilities, equipment, and operational practices for work involving infectious or potentially infectious materials, animals, or cultures.

PROTECTIVE CLOTHING: Lab coat. Gloves when direct skin contact with infected materials or animals is unavoidable. Eye protection must be used where there is a known or potential risk of exposure to splashes Footnote 21.

OTHER PRECAUTIONS: All procedures that may produce aerosols, or involve high concentrations or large volumes should be conducted in a biological safety cabinet (BSC). The use of needles, syringes, and other sharp objects should be strictly limited. Additional precautions should be considered with work involving animals or large scale activities Footnote 21.


SPILLS: Allow aerosols to settle and, wearing protective clothing, gently cover spill with paper towels and apply an appropriate disinfectant, starting at the perimeter and working towards the centre. Allow sufficient contact time before clean up Footnote 21.

DISPOSAL: Decontaminate all wastes that contain or have come in contact with the infectious organism by autoclave, chemical disinfection, gamma irradiation, or incineration before disposing Footnote 21.

STORAGE: The infectious agent should be stored in leak-proof containers that are appropriately labelled Footnote 21.


UPDATED: December 2011

PREPARED BY: Pathogen Regulation Directorate, Public Health Agency of Canada.

Although the information, opinions and recommendations contained in this Pathogen Safety Data Sheet are compiled from sources believed to be reliable, we accept no responsibility for the accuracy, sufficiency, or reliability or for any loss or injury resulting from the use of the information. Newly discovered hazards are frequent and this information may not be completely up to date.

Copyright ©
Public Health Agency of Canada, 2011

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