Tiny and shaped like spirals, Campylobacter bacteria look pretty cool under a microscope. But you wouldn't want to invite them to a barbecue.
Unfortunately, however, that's what many of us do. And we end up feeling lousy as a result.
Along with salmonella and E. coli, Campylobacter bacteria are one of the most common causes of foodborne illness. But there's much we can do to protect ourselves from getting sick.
How Campylobacter bacteria spread
Campylobacter are commonly found in the digestive tracts of cats, dogs, poultry, cattle and other animals, including humans, reports the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common way to get sick from Campylobacter is by eating undercooked chicken or foods contaminated by the juices of raw chicken. You also can get sick by eating undercooked meat, drinking unpasteurized milk, or by eating or drinking food or water that's been contaminated by the feces of infected animals.
What are the symptoms?
Anyone can get sick from Campylobacter, but infants, young children, pregnant women and older adults are at increased risk, reports the USDA. And infection can be life-threatening to people with weakened immune systems due to HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes and other conditions.
In most people, however, infection results in a short bout of diarrhea, abdominal pain and fever. According to CDC, these symptoms usually show up two to five days after infection and last about a week. Some people also may experience vomiting.
More rarely, infection can result in serious side effects. These can include meningitis, urinary tract infections, arthritis and Guillain-Barré syndrome—a disease of the nerves that can cause paralysis lasting several weeks. According to CDC, Guillain-Barré syndrome occurs in only 1 out of 1,000 people with Campylobacter.
What if I get sick?
Most people with Campylobacter infection recover without treatment.
According to CDC, you should call your doctor if you have:
A doctor may prescribe antibiotics for severe diarrhea. You should drink extra fluids as long as diarrhea lasts.
Follow these tips from CDC to reduce your risk for campylobacter infection:
Call your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about foodborne illness.
You can also learn more about preventing foodborne illness in the Food Safety health topic center.