What it is

Campylobacter are a group of germs (bacteria) that commonly cause food poisoning. This occurs when a person consumes food that has been contaminated with the germs. The resulting infection leads to diarrhoea and vomiting.

How is it spread?

Campylobacter may be found in:

  • raw meat and poultry
  • unpasteurised milk
  • untreated water
  • mushrooms and shellfish
  • pets and other animals who are infected with campylobacter bacteria
    Note: in animals, campylobacter rarely causes any symptoms for the animals themselves


Symptoms usually tend to come on within 2-5 days of eating the contaminated food or after contact with a contaminated animal. but can be up to 10days. Typical symptoms of campylobacter infection include:

  • Feeling sick (nausea) or being sick (vomiting)
  • Diarrhoea (which may be bloody)
  • Stomach cramps
  • High fever

In most individuals, symptoms are fairly mild and improve within 2-3 days. Most recover from the illness within a week. In severe cases, the individual can become dehydrated. If this occurs or is suspected, medical advice should be sought immediately.


Mild dehydration is common and is easily and quickly treated by drinking lots of fluids. Severe dehydration can be fatal unless promptly treated because the organs of the body need a certain amount of fluid to work normally. This is especially important if the individual has passed six or more very loose stools (faeces) or vomited three or more times in the preceding 24hours.

Symptoms of dehydration in children include passing little urine, a dry mouth, tongue and lips, fewer tears when crying, sunken eyes, weakness, being irritable or having no energy.

Symptoms of severe dehydration in children include drowsiness, pale or mottled skin, cold hands or feet, very few wet nappies and fast (often shallow) breathing.
This is a medical emergency and immediate medical attention is needed.

Symptoms of dehydration in adults include tiredness, dizziness or light-headedness, headache, muscular cramps, sunken eyes, passing little urine, a dry mouth and tongue, weakness and becoming irritable.

Symptoms of severe dehydration in adults include marked loss of interest (apathy), weakness, confusion, rapid heart rate, coma and producing very little urine. This is a medical emergency

Dehydration in adults is more likely to occur in:

  • Elderly or frail individuals
  • pregnant women
  • Individuals with severe diarrhoea and vomiting, particularly if they are not able to replace the fluid lost with sufficient drinks

Please seek medical attention quickly if you suspect that you or the affected individual is becoming dehydrated


Most children with campylobacter do not need any specific treatment and can be cared for at home. The aim is to ensure that the affected individual has plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Symptoms usually settle within a few days. However, in severe cases, the affected individual may need to be hospitalised.


  • Drink plenty fluids (including water, light fruit juices and soups)to prevent and treat dehydration
  • Eat as normally as possible once the dehydration has been treated
  • Paracetamol or ibuprofen can be used to ease high temperature or abdominal pain
  • Antidiarrhoeal medication is not usually necessary and it is best to seek advice from your GP; who may also prescribe a course of antibiotics if necessary

Prevention of Spread

If you are or anyone you are caring for is, infected with campylobacter:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap after using the toilet, changing a nappy and before preparing, serving or eating food
  • Wear gloves if handling a potty and make sure to wash it thoroughly with hot water and soap and let it air-dry
  • Do not share towels or flannels
  • If clothing or bedding is soiled, dispose of any remaining stools (faeces)into the toilet and wash the item in a separate wash at high temperature
  • Use disinfectant to clean the toilet and bathroom regularly and wipe all surfaces including taps and handles, preferably with a disposable cloth
  • Stay away from work, school or college for at least 48hours after the last episode of diarrhoea and/or vomiting. Avoid contact with other people as far as possible during this time.
  • If you handle food on a regular basis, you must inform your employer if you develop symptoms of vomiting and/or diarrhoea, and immediately leave the food-handling area
  • If you work with vulnerable groups of people such as the elderly, unwell or the young, you should inform your employer if you develop symptoms

‘4 Cs’ to help prevent food poisoning (Food Standards Agency, UK)

1. Cleanliness

  • Keep work surfaces and utensils clean
  • Wash and dry hands regularly but particularly after using the toilet and , handling raw food and; and before preparing food or touching ‘ready-to eat’ food
  • Do not prepare food if you have diarrhoea or are vomiting
  • Cover any cuts and sores on your hands with a waterproof plaster before you touch food
  • Wash raw fruits and vegetables before eating
  • Change dishcloths and tea towels regularly
  • Wash your hands after touching pets or animals, visiting farms or gardening

2. Cooking

  • Make sure to cook food thoroughly, especially meat in order to kill bacteria
  • If you are reheating food, ensure it is piping hot right through
  • Do not reheat food more than once
  • Do not drink water if you think it is not safe-this includes the use of ice cubes
  • Drink pasteurised or boiled milk and avoid raw eggs

3. Chilling

  • Chill or refrigerate foods as necessary
  • Make sure your fridge temperature is kept between 0°C and 50°C-do not leave the door open unnecessarily
  • Cool left-over food quickly and refrigerate once cool

4. Cross-Contamination

  • Always wash your hands after touching raw foods
  • Separate raw, cooked and ‘ready-to eat’ foods
  • Keep raw meat in a sealable container at the bottom of the fridge
  • Do not use the same knife, surface or chopping board for preparing raw and ‘ready- to- eat’ foods
  • Clean knives and utensils thoroughly after preparing raw foods

For further information, contact the Infection Prevention and Control Department at St Bernard’s Hospital
Telephone: 20072266 Ext 2315