What is campylobacter?
Campylobacter is a bacteria that can cause an intestinal illness in people and animals. Campylobacter jejuni is the species most frequently involved in illnesses, but other species of Campylobacter may also cause illness. Camphylobacter and other food-borne diseases are often undiagnosed and under reported, so it is difficult to estimate the exact numbers of people who get sick each year. Camphylobacter normally lives in the intestines of mammals and warm-blooded birds. It can survive refrigeration and grows if food is left out for too long at room temperature. The organism is sensitive to heat, so proper cooking and pasteurization will kill it.
What are the symptoms?
Typical symptoms are diarrhea (sometimes bloody), abdominal pain, fever, fatigue, headache, nausea and vomiting. Symptoms usually last 2-10 days, and may sometimes recur. Not all infected persons show signs and symptoms. About 1 in 1,000 persons infected with Campylobacter develops a serious condition called Guillain- Barre Syndrome (GBS). GBS causes limb weakness, sometimes progressing to paralysis. Guillain-BarrÃ© is the result of a terrible mistake made by the immune system. The antibodies our body makes to fight the infection sometimes attack the body’s own nerve cells, because the nerve cells are chemically similar to the disease-causing bacteria and our immune system can’t always distinguish between the two. The damage to the attacked nerve cells causes paralysis.. The paralysis starts in the feet and spreads up the body. Sometimes full paralysis occurs and lasts for months. Often patients must be hospitalized in intensive care units for long periods of time. Full recovery is common, but some people are left with severe, permanent nerve damage. Fifteen percent of people with Guillain-BarrÃ© have paralysis that causes them to remain bedridden or in wheelchairs a year after coming down with the syndrome. At least 30-40% of cases of GBS are probably caused by Campylobacter infection.
How soon do symptoms appear?
The incubation period can range from 1 to 10 days, but is usually 2 to 5 days.
How do you get it?
Campylobacter is transmitted by faecal contamination of food and water. The bacteria are shed in the faeces (stools) of people and animals infected with Campylobacter. You can get Campylobacter by eating food or drinking beverages that have been contaminated with faeces from infected people or animals. You can also get it if you contaminate your own hands cleaning up animal droppings or handling raw poultry and meat, then eating with your unwashed hands. The bacteria may be spread within the family unit and between small children.
Campylobacter is present on most uncooked poultry, beef, pork, unpasteurized dairy products, and unchlorinated water. The bacteria can be present in a wide variety of animal droppings including mammals (cows, pigs, dogs and cats) and birds (chickens, turkeys and wild birds). Adequate cooking destroys the bacteria. Campylobacter is NOT spread by coughing or sneezing.
How do you find out if you have it?
Your doctor can order a stool culture test in which the bacteria can be detected. An infected person will shed the bacteria for several days to weeks after they recover.
How is it treated?
No specific treatment is indicated for mild infections, except bed rest and fluid replacement. Appropriate antibiotics may eliminate the bacteria, but may not shorten the duration of symptoms.
How can Campylobacter be avoided?
Campylobacter commonly occurs as isolated single cases but occasionally results in family or general outbreaks. The bacteria do not grow in foodstuffs and are easily destroyed by cooking, therefore all meat and poultry should be thoroughly cooked. Raw and cooked food should be kept separate to avoid cross contamination. Frozen food needs complete thawing before cooking. Care needs to be taken so that defrosting juices do not drip onto other food when stored in the refrigerator. Personal hygiene is very important – wash hands with soap and water after going to the toilet, before and after handling or preparing food, especially raw and cooked meat and after handling pet animals. Wash preparation surfaces and utensils carefully. Drink only pasteurised milk and chlorinated water supplies. Protect milk bottles on the doorstep from being pecked by birds. All people with symptoms should be excluded from work, school or day nursery. Anyone who handles food should remain off work until 48 hours after symptoms have stopped. Children should return to school 24 hours after the first normal stool. Children under 5 must not return to nursery until they have had 48 hours symptom-free.
WHAT IS THE TREATMENT FOLLOWING INFECTION?
Almost all cases of campylobacter infection will recover without treatment over time. However, if infected with Campylobacter, patients should visit their doctor who may prescribe antibiotics or fluid and electrolyte replacement, depending upon the severity of the infection. In addition, patients should drink plenty of water while the diarrhoea persists
STEPS TO PREVENT CAMPYLOBACTER INFECTION
Temperature control – Cooking
High temperatures kill Campylobacter. Therefore, all poultry products should be cooked thoroughly until they are no longer pink and the juices run clear. The core temperature should be brought to 70°C for 2 minutes.
Temperature control – Storage
Keep hot foods hot – store in a hot holding cabinet (above 63°C).
Keep cold foods cold – store in a refrigerated display unit (below 5°C).
These conditions prevent bacterial multiplication.
Prevent Cross Contamination
Very few Campylobacter organisms (<500) are necessary to cause infection. Therefore, you should prevent cross-contamination by ensuring good food handling practices:
Never use the same cutting board or kitchen utensils for raw and cooked / ready-to-eat foods without thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting them between use.
Ensure raw meats and their juices are handled or stored separately from cooked / ready-to-eat foods. Ensure staffs wash their hands thoroughly between handling raw and cooked / ready to eat foods.
Use potable water for all steps in the processing / preparation of food.
By law food businesses must have a food safety management system based on the principles of Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP). Within this system businesses should pay particular attention to control measures to reduce the risk of Campylobacter infection.