Campylobacter: cause, infection, symptoms, treatment

Campylobacter infections are mainly transmitted by poultry (chicken) meat. What are the symptoms? Is it contagious ? What complications? Replies by Pr Philippe Lehours, director of the National Reference Center for Campylobacters and Helicobacters.

Definition: What is a Campylobacter?

Campylobacter is ten times more common than salmonellosis in industrialized countries

The bacterium called Campylobacter is a bacterium that occurs naturally in the digestive tract of animals. They are therefore asymptomatic carriers. Discovered in the early 20th century, this bacterium was initially classified as a vibrio because it was equally mobile. The genus Campylobacter was then created, but it took years 1970 to be considered pathogenic for humans. Long underestimated in humans, Campylobacter infections or Campylobacteriosis due to Campylobacter jejuni (85% of the cases concern this species) are actually ten times more frequent than salmonellosis in industrialized countries. “It is a disease that occurs at all ages of life. About 30% of those infected are children and most cases are found in men, although between the ages of 20-40 women are more at risk than men“explains Professor Philippe Lehours, director of the National Reference Center for Campylobacters and Helicobacters.

What are the causes of transmission of Campylobacter?

There is no health risk if the meat is well cooked because bacteria are eliminated during cooking

According to Public Health France, the number of food-borne campylobacteriosis cases in France is estimated at 493,000. Indeed, Campylobacter is mainly transmitted from poultry meat. In 2008, a report from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) revealed that 75% of chicken carcasses were contaminated with campylobacter (in the European Union, Switzerland and Norway). “Chickens harbor the Campylobacter jejuni bacterium in their digestive tract and during the slaughter and plucking process, it spreads to their skin. “ explains Prof. Philippe Lehours. However, there is no health risk if the meat is well done because the bacteria are eliminated during cooking. On the contrary, “sif you wash your hands badly after handling them, if you don’t clean cutting boards or utensils properly while cooking, you can accidentally contaminate other foods you eat raw.“Campylobacteria may also be present in pet feces and it is possible to become infected through drinking water, if it has been contaminated with animal or human feces containing the bacteria (untreated river water, tap water in case of chlorination problems). An increase in the number of Campylobacter infections is observed every summer.

What are the symptoms of a Campylobacter infection?

Symptoms of campylobacteriosis vary:

  • Abdominal painmore or less intense that do not always justify a medical consultation
  • Acute diarrhea sometimes with blood in the stool
  • Fevermore or less moderate
Symptoms of a Campylobacter
Symptoms of campylobacteriosis © mikrostoker – 123RF

Is it contagious ?

The risks of contagion are limited if the infected person adopts good hygiene“, says our interlocutor. If one of the members suffers from diarrhea, in fact, there are intrafamilial contaminations. The contamination is then made via the fecal-oral route.

What are the complications of Campylobacter?

Unlike salmonellosis, campylobacteriosis is not destined to become chronic but complications are possible in elderly or immunocompromised patients. The latter would be more contaminated by another species, Campylobacter fetus, which can lead to bacteremia (presence of bacteria in the bloodstream). In rare cases, patients can develop Guillain Barre Syndromea neurological disorder that causes weakness or even paralysis.

What treatment to treat Campylobacter?

Campylobacteriosis can resolve on its own, Professor Lehours assures, without the risk of chronic portability, unlike salmonellosis. But treatment with oral antibiotics such as azithromycin can be started for 3-5 days in the elderly, young children, pregnant women or immunocompromised people with high fever, bloody diarrhea and symptoms for more than three days. But “there is no natural substitute for antibiotics as a bacterial treatment “. As for bacteremia, they must be treated with bi-antibiotic therapy by injection.

  • Cook your meat well and pay attention to raw or rare meat preparations
  • Respect the cold chain
  • Store raw foods separately from raw meat to avoid contamination
  • Wash your hands, work surface and utensils thoroughly after handling raw meat
  • Regularly clean the refrigerator with bleach

Thanks to Pr Philippe Lehours, director of the National Reference Center for Campylobacters and Helicobacters.


CNRCH website

Public health report France

Article from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food

Leave a Comment