Campylobacter is a class of rod or spiral-shaped bacteria. Although there are 16 species of Campylobacter, just two types are responsible for most human cases of campylobacter infection: C. jejuni and C. coli.


Campylobacter infection results in a particularly unpleasant bout of food poisoning, the symptoms being diarrhea (frequently bloody), nausea and/or vomiting, fever, headache, and abdominal and joint pain. Symptoms start within 1 - 7 days of infection and usually last for about a week, although 20% of patients may experience pain and diarrhea for up to 3 weeks. The infection generally clears up on its own.

Occasionally complications may develop - these include hepatitis, pancreatitis, bacteraemia and abortion. On rare occasions patients may be left with reactive arthritis lasting several months, or worse, Guillain-Barré syndrome - a type of paralysis similar to polio, which can be fatal.


The disease is usually caught by drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated food. Campylobacter is present in the digestive systems of many domestic animals without causing them any obvious symptoms. It is widespread in household pets and livestock and can easily be passed on through faecal contamination. It used to be quite common to find Campylobacter contamination in milk - garden birds would peck holes through the milk bottle tops as they tried to reach the cream, leaving behind the bacteria which had been on their beaks.

Once in the human digestive system, the bacteria thrive in the semi-anaerobic conditions, invading the gut lining and multiplying rapidly. This causes lesions in the gut wall resulting in blood-stained diarrhea and cramps.


Strict standards of food hygiene can virtually eliminate the chances of catching a campylobacter infection.
  • Always cook raw meat, especially offal and poultry. Unlike Salmonella, the bacteria do not multiply on food, but Campylobacter infections can still take place upon the ingestion of very low doses of the bacteria
  • Keep raw meat away from cooked products during storage and preparation
  • Wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly
  • Always wash hands after using the toilet, touching animals and before preparing food or drinks
  • Never drink water without boiling it first, even if it comes from the clearest, sparkliest mountain stream - a sheep might have pooed in it!
  • Avoid ice cubes if you are uncertain of the water source
  • Don't drink unpasteurised milk
  • Be extra cautious around people or animals suffering from diarrhea


As with any form of food poisoning it is essential to maintain fluid levels - dehydration is a killer.

Campylobacter infection has always been common in developing countries, where it is often fatal in infants. It is now becoming increasingly problematic in first world nations where it is responsible for more cases of food poisoning per annum than any other bacterium. It is preventable and curable, but high standards of hygiene and cleanliness are of the utmost importance if the prevalence of this disease is to be controlled. Campylobacter is one of the top 10 major diseases threatening public health in the UK, according to the Public Health Laboratory Service, and reported incidences are increasing year by year.