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Campylobacter bacteria 

Bacteria in the genus Campylobacter cause most of the bacterial gastroenteritis in Canada.  It is generally not serious, but in rare cases, there can be side effects. 

Campylobacter is quite often found in raw poultry. In some cases, it has been spread by contaminated drinking water.  It is easily prevented by frequent hand washing and good food safety practices.

Information for Health Professionals

Campylobacter are bacteria that infect the intestinal tract and sometimes the blood. When a person gets sick from this infection it is called campylobacteriosis. 

Campylobacteriosis is a common cause of diarrhea in BC and the world. Over the past 10 years (1999 to 2008), an average of 1,900 infections per year has been reported to the BC Centre for Disease Control.


Campylobacter may cause: 

  • mild to severe diarrhea
  • bloody diarrhea
  • nausea
  • stomach pain
  • fever
  • and occasionally vomiting.

Symptoms start an average of 2 to 5 days (range 1 to 10 days) after exposure to the bacteria and usually last for less than one week. Sometimes a person can be infected and have no symptoms. In some cases symptoms may continue for more than ten days, and sometimes symptoms can return after you have started to get better.


Campylobacteriosis is spread by the fecal-oral route. Fecal material from infected humans or animals can get into our mouths by:

  • consuming contaminated food or drink
  • contact with the feces of infected humans that is not followed by proper hand washing
  • contact with the feces of domestic or wild animals, including pets and farm animals, that is not followed by proper hand washing. Pets may also have fecal matter on their hair or fur that is transferred to our hands when we touch them.

Campylobacter live in the intestines of many animals including chickens, cows, pigs, sheep, dogs, cats and humans.  When animals are slaughtered for food, bacteria from an animal’s intestines may contaminate the meat that we consume. 

Common sources of infection are undercooked chicken and meats, unpasteurized milk and other fecally contaminated food and water.  During food preparation, bacteria can be transmitted from contaminated foods to other foods or surfaces in the kitchen.  This is called cross-contamination.  It is especially dangerous if foods that are meant to be consumed uncooked, such as fresh fruits or vegetables, are cross-contaminated.  An example of this would be cutting raw meat on a cutting board and then cutting vegetables on the same board without washing and sanitizing the board in between. 

Drinking water can be contaminated if humans or animals leave their droppings in or near surface water sources such as streams, rivers, lakes or shallow wells and this water is not adequately treated

Rarely, arthritis and Guillain-Barré Syndrome (a neurological condition) can occur after campylobacteriosis.


Diagnosis is made by culturing the microorganism from a stool sample.

If you think you have a campylobacter infection, see your family doctor for testing, advice and treatment.


Antibiotics are sometimes used to treat a campylobacter infection, but often it is left to run its course. Your doctor will decide if treatment is necessary in your case. People with campylobacteriosis are advised to drink fluids to prevent dehydration from diarrhea.


Since campylobacter are passed in the feces, people with diarrhea which may be due to an infection should not go to work or school. 

If you are a food handler, health care worker or work in or attend a day care, it is possible for you to transmit campylobacter to others in these settings. Do not work while you have diarrhea or vomiting and do not return to work or day care until 48 hours after your last loose stool or episode of vomiting. This time period will ensure you have a chance to recover and lessen the possibility of transmitting the infection to others.

Children in day care who have diarrhea or vomiting can be cared for temporarily in an area separate from other children until picked up by their parents. To ensure proper hand washing, children in day cares should be supervised by an adult when washing their hands.


Be aware of the risks associated with the food products you buy and know how to prepare your food safely.  Treat all raw poultry and meat as if it is contaminated and handle it accordingly.

To handle and prepare food safely:

  • Refrigerate foods promptly.  Keep raw meat well wrapped and on lower refrigerator shelves so blood does not drip onto other foods.
  • Thaw poultry and meat in the refrigerator, microwave, or under cold running water, not at room temperature.
  • Do not eat raw or undercooked poultry or meats.  
  • To ensure poultry and meats are cooked thoroughly use a meat thermometer and take the INTERNAL temperature of the meat by inserting the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat. You must achieve the following temperatures:
    1. The MINIMUM internal temperature for poultry is 74º C (165º F).
    2. The MINIMUM internal temperature for other meats is 71º C (160º F).
  • Avoid direct contact between raw meats and other uncooked foods.
  • When cooking or barbecuing, use separate plates and utensils for raw and cooked poultry and meat.
  • Use a separate cutting board for raw meats.  If a second cutting board is unavailable, cut all other ingredients first before cutting raw meats. 
  • Wash and sanitize items that do not go in the dishwasher such as cutting boards, utensils, counters, kitchen sinks and tap handles:
    1. Wash with warm, soapy water.
    2. Rinse with warm, plain water. 
    3. Sanitize with a mild bleach solution – one teaspoon (5 ml)of bleach per litre of water. Immerse items in the solution or spray solution onto surfaces and soak for at least two minutes to kill any bacteria.
    Other ways to prevent infection:
    • Before eating
    • Before handling food
    • Immediately after handling raw poultry or meat, and before touching anything else
    • After using the toilet or changing diapers, and
    • After touching animals
  • Do not drink unpasteurized milk or juices.
  • If your local drinking water provider has issued a Boil Water Notice for your community, take the advice seriously.
  • Do not drink untreated surface water from a spring, stream, river, lake, pond or shallow well.  Assume it is contaminated with animal feces.  Boil or disinfect water from these sources that is used for:
    1. drinking
    2. making ice cubes
    3. washing uncooked fruits and vegetables
    4. making baby formula
    5. brushing teeth
    6. washing dentures and
    7. any use where it will be consumed without adequate heat treatment.
  • Boil water for at least 1 minute at a rolling boil. At elevations above 2000 m (6562 ft), boil for at least 2 minutes, or 
  • Disinfect using 1 drop of bleach per litre of water.  Shake and allow to stand for 30 minutes before drinking. 
  • For more information: How To Disinfect Drinking Water - BC HealthFile #49b

Make sure children, particularly those who handle pets, wash their hands carefully before eating and on a regular basis if they suck their thumbs or put their hands in their mouths.

SOURCE: Campylobacter ( )
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