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Campylobacter

What Is It?

Campylobacter is an infectious illness which can be carried in food or water. It is recognised initially by the symptoms. These can include severe abdominal pain, diarrhoea, fever, nausea and occasionally vomiting. These symptoms can last for up to 2 weeks.

How Is It Caused?

It is caused by the campylobacter bacteria entering the body through the mouth, usually ingested through contact with unwashed hands or infected food or drink.

Possible routes of the infection are: -

  • Drinking raw unpasteurised milk
  • Eating undercooked poultry and poultry based foods
  • Contact with streams, ponds and similar watercourses
  • Drinking unchlorinated (untreated) water

Infection from pets, especially puppies, kittens, farm animals, and birds. (watch out for birds pecking the tops on milk bottles left on the door step)

How Is It Spread?

Hands, kitchen surfaces and cooking utensils such as chopping boards and knives can become contaminated when preparing raw foods such as uncooked poultry. If not properly washed afterwards they can transfer bacteria onto other foods. If these foods are ones that do not require further cooking before being eaten (a process that would normally kill off bacteria) this could cause food poisoning.

What Precautionary Measures Can I Take?

Thorough hand-washing is vital: -

  • Before preparing or serving food or drink
  • After handling pets or their food bowls
  • After handling raw meat and poultry
  • Avoid swallowing water when participating in watersports.

You should also...

Only drink mains or treated water and make sure that the water tank in your loft is covered to stop birds getting in.

Do not drink untreated (green top) milk and keep tops on delivered milk covered with yogurt cartons to prevent birds pecking at them.

Cover open wounds or sores with a waterproof plaster. The plaster should also be of food standard and coloured blue if you work with food. (Blue food-grade plasters are more easily noticed if they fall off into food)

Keep all perishable foods in a fridge, separating raw meat from other foods.

Only take food out of the fridge just before use.

Keep the fridge temperature below 5°C. (You can check the temperature with a separate thermometer if the fridge doesn't have a temperature display)

Ensure frozen foods are properly thawed before cooking.

Ensure foods are cooked thoroughly. Barbecues can be a particular problem.

Keep kitchen surfaces and utensils clean. Wash chopping boards and knives with a detergent and sanitizer.

Don't let pets or other animals into the kitchen when preparing food. Do not wash pets' food bowls with the family dishes.

Don't buy or eat food that is past its 'use by' or 'best before' dates.

Don't reheat food more than once.

Always follow the instructions on cooking/reheating microwave and ready-meals carefully to ensure that the food is evenly heated throughout.

Will I need treatment?

No, treatment isn't usually given for Campylobacter infections. It is simply a case of letting the body's own natural defences deal with the infection. In some special cases where the infected person has a weakened immune system or other special circumstances, antibiotics may be prescribed, but antibiotics kill both the good and the bad bacteria indiscriminately, damaging the body's natural defences, which can take some time to recover. This potentially extends the time during which the patient can both carry and can pass on the germ. It is therefore generally better to allow the body to deal with the infection itself, rather than treating the infection. If you are given antibiotics by your GP however, you must take the entire antibiotics course and continue to take them, even if you start to feel better.

Do I Need To Submit Samples?

In some cases, it may be necessary to collect specimens of faeces for laboratory analysis to confirm the presence of a pathogenic organism. The results can help in determining the possible source of an infection by identifying whether the pathogen you have is the same as that found in other similar cases, proving or disproving any links.

Where it is felt necessary for you to submit a faecal sample, an Environmental Health Officer will contact you. You will be given a special container to place the samples in and full instructions on how to hygienically use and seal the container. The sample will then be sent to the laboratory for analysis and you will be advised of the outcome once the results have been received. Results can take several days to come back, so please be patient!