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What is campylobacter?

Campylobacter is bacteria (germ) that can infect the intestines (bowels) in people and animals. The infection (called “campylobacteriosis”) is one of the most common types of diarrheal illness in the United States. In rare cases, campylobacter can spread to the blood and cause a serious infection.

How do people catch campylobacter?

People usually catch campylobacter by eating contaminated food that was raw or not cooked properly and drinking contaminated beverages including untreated water.  Campylobacter is most commonly found in food products from animals, such as poultry (chicken or turkey), and in unpasteurized milk. However, thorough cooking or pasteurizing will kill the bacteria and make these foods safe to eat.

Campylobacter has been found in the stool (feces) of farm animals and pets (including cattle, chicken, cats and dogs), even if they appear healthy. The bacteria are also found in different kinds of wild life. Therefore, you should wash your hands well with soap and water after touching animals or their stools.

What are the symptoms of campylobacter infection?

The most common symptoms are diarrhea (sometimes bloody), stomach pain, fever, nausea, and vomiting. These symptoms most often start within 2 to 5 days after the germs have been swallowed. Healthy people who get campylobacter infection recover completely within two to five days, although sometimes recovery can take up to 10 days.

How do you know if you have campylobacter infection?

Your healthcare provider can send a stool (feces) sample to a laboratory.  The laboratory will test the sample for campylobacter bacteria. 

How is the illness treated?

Most people recover without any treatment. However, extra fluids may be needed to prevent dehydration.  Antibiotics may be used to treat campylobacter infection in people who cannot fight off the illness on their own. 

How can you prevent campylobacter infection?

When preparing food treat raw eggs, chicken, and other meats as if they are contaminated and handle accordingly.  Good hand washing is important after handling all animals or their stool (feces).


  • Wash your hands with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds (time it by singing the happy birthday song twice) before and after handling food.
  • Rinse all fresh fruits and vegetables under running water before cooking, packing or eating.
  • Clean all utensils to be used for cooking with soap and hot water.


  • Do not reuse marinade that you used for raw foods on cooked foods. Always marinate in the refrigerator.
  • Do not put cooked foods on the same plate as raw foods. 
  • Do not reuse utensils that have touched raw foods unless you are able to wash them with soap and hot water.
  • Keep raw meat, seafood and chicken away from other foods and wrapped properly to keep juices from contaminating other foods.
  • Thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator not on the kitchen counter. Bacteria multiply more quickly at room temperature.
  • Check expiration dates of meats, chicken, fish, shellfish, milk and other products.


  • Use a food thermometer to make sure food is at a safe internal temperature.
  • Hamburger meat should be cooked to 160°F, steaks to 145°F for medium rare and 160°F for medium.  Chicken should reach a temperature of 165°F and fish should cook to 145°F or until it is opaque and separates easily.  Shellfish should be closed tightly before cooking and cooked until their shells open.  
  • Keep hot food hot by placing it on the stove top or grill rack.
  • Cook eggs until yolks and whites are firm, do not eat “runny” eggs.
  • If you are unsure how an item was prepared, ask how it was cooked.
  • Do not use unpasteurized milk or products (ex. cheese)


  • In hot weather between 40?°F- 90°F, food should not be outside for more than 2 hours, in weather of 90°F or more, food should never be left out for more than an hour.  Refrigerate leftover and unused portions promptly.
  • Keep your cooler full to maintain cold temperatures, keep it out of the sun and limit the number of times you open it.
Handwashing saves lives!  Wash your hands
  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before eating food
  • After using the toilet
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
  • After touching an animal or animal waste

What if I have campylobacter?

Most infected people may return to work or school once their diarrhea has resolved, provided they carefully wash their hands after using the bathroom. Keep in mind it is possible to give the bacteria to other’s even after feeling better. In order to protect the public, workers who handle food and health care workers must be cleared by your local health department before returning to work.

Boston Public Health Commission
1010 Massachusetts Ave, 6th Floor, Boston, MA 02118.
Phone:(617) 534-5395 Email: