Campylobacter Infection in Children
Campylobacter is a bacterium that can cause a mild to serious intestinal infection
called campylobacteriosis. Symptoms often include cramping, diarrhea, belly pain,
Facts about campylobacteriosis
The campylobacter bacteria mostly affect infants, teenagers, and young adults. The
CDC estimates that over 1.3 million cases of campylobacter happen in the U.S. each
year. However, this is just an estimate because most of the cases go undiagnosed and
Campylobacter is more common in summer than in winter. A person typically gets the
infection by eating or coming in contact with raw meat, usually chicken, that contains
the organism. It can also be picked up by drinking contaminated water or unpasteurized
dairy products. Another common way to get the infection is by contact with infected
feces from pets like cats, puppies, birds, hamsters, and others.
What are the symptoms of campylobacteriosis infection?
Signs and symptoms of campylobacteriosis typically appear about 2 to 5 days after
exposure to the bacteria and may include:
Diarrhea (often bloody)
Belly cramping and pain
The illness usually lasts about a week. In people with a weak immune system, symptoms
can become more severe and even life-threatening.
How is campylobacter infection diagnosed?
In order to determine that campylobacter bacteria are causing your child's illness,
his or her healthcare provider will need to take a stool sample and culture it. Since
similar types of illnesses are caused by many different kinds of bacteria, this is
the best way to accurately determine if campylobacter is the cause.
How is campylobacter infection treated?
The illness related to campylobacter typically only lasts a week. By the time the
healthcare provider sees your child there may be nothing else for you to do but wait
it out. In some instances, the healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics such
as azithromycin or erythromycin to ease symptoms and make your child feel better faster.
If the illness doesn't go away, you'll want to see the healthcare provider again immediately.
You can't do much to relieve the symptoms of campylobacteriosis at home. If your child
has diarrhea, it's important to keep him or her hydrated by drinking plenty of water
as long as the diarrhea lasts. Antidiarrheal medicine is not recommended, especially
in children for whom it can cause serious side effects. This is because these medicines
keep the bacteria in the body for a longer period.
Can campylobacter infection be prevented?
In most instances, a campylobacter infection results from improper food handling or
preparation. Even a drop of contaminated juice from raw chicken can cause an infection.
You can prevent the spread of the bacteria by taking precautions when preparing food.
Cut all meats on separate cutting boards from those used for fruits, vegetables, or
other foods. Throw out any marinade used on raw meat. Cook meat until no pink is showing
before serving it. Never put cooked meat on an unwashed dish that held raw meat.
Good hygiene measures can also help to prevent the spread of the illness. These include
washing hands thoroughly with soap and hot water after playing with or touching a
pet, changing a diaper, handling raw meat, or using the bathroom. If someone in your
household has diarrhea, everyone (not just the person with the illness) should wash his
or her hands often.
Contaminated water and unpasteurized dairy products are other common sources of campylobacter
bacteria. It's best to avoid both altogether.