What is Campylobacter? And How Does It Cause Food Poisoning?

Campylobacter is the most common type of bacteria that causes food poisoning in the UK. Public Health England reports that in England and Wales the number of cases increased from 52,381 in 2016 to 56,729 in 2017. It’s likely there are many more cases which go unreported.

Campylobacter germs can be found in raw meat, particularly raw or undercooked poultry like chicken and turkey. It can also be found in unpasteurised milk and untreated water. On rare occasions mushrooms and shellfish have also been found to contain campylobacter.

Pets (including cats and dogs) and other animals infected with campylobacter can pass on the bacteria to you. Cases of campylobacter have occurred after farm visits, for instance.

Who is at risk of becoming infected with campylobacter?

Campylobacter can affect anyone at any age. However, babies and children are more likely to become ill with campylobacter infection than adults. Males have a greater chance than females of becoming infected. It’s more common in summer than winter.

What are the symptoms of campylobacter?

The typical symptoms of campylobacter are feeling sick, diarrhoea, and being sick, although vomiting doesn’t always happen. The diarrhoea can sometimes be bloody. Stomach pains and a high temperature can also occur. Symptoms tend to come on within 2-5 days of eating the contaminated food or of being in contact with the contaminated animal. However, sometimes the symptoms can appear faster, between one and 11 days.

In most people, symptoms are relatively mild and improve within 2-3 days. About 9 in 10 affected people recover from the illness within one week. However, sometimes symptoms can be more severe and/or complications can occur.

Is there a link between campylobacter and Guillain-Barré syndrome? 

Whilst rare, Guillain-Barré syndrome has been known to be triggered by campylobacter infection. This is a condition that affects the nerves throughout your body and limbs, causing weakness and sensory problems. You can find out more information about Guillain-Barré syndrome in our information hub on our website.

See our post on food poisoning and how to prevent it for tips on how to avoid Campylobacter.

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