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Campylobacter enteritis

Definition

Campylobacter enteritis is an infection of the small intestine with Campylobacter jejuni bacteria.

Alternative Names

Food poisoning - campylobacter enteritis; Infectious diarrhea - campylobacter enteritis; Bacterial diarrhea

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Campylobacter enteritis is a common cause of intestinal infection. These bacteria also cause one of the many types of traveler's diarrhea.

People usually get infected by eating or drinking contaminated food or water, often raw poultry, fresh produce, or unpasteurized milk. A person can also be infected by close contact with infected people or animals. Symptoms start 2 - 4 days after exposure and generally last 1 week.

Risk factors include recent family infection with C. jejuni, recently eating improperly prepared food, or recent travel in an area with poor sanitation or cleanliness.

Symptoms

Signs and tests

The health care provider will perform a physical exam. The following tests may be ordered:

  • Complete blood count with differential
  • Stool sample testing for detection of white blood cells
  • Stool culture for Campylobacter jejuni

Treatment

The infection typically goes away on its own and is not usually treated with antibiotics. Severe symptoms may respond to treatment with antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin and azithromycin.

Self-care measures to avoid dehydration include drinking electrolyte solutions to replace the fluids lost with diarrhea. People with diarrhea, especially children, who are unable to take fluids by mouth because of nausea, may need medical attention and intravenous fluids.

People taking diuretics (water pills) need to be careful when they have diarrhea and may need to stop taking the medicine during the acute episode, if directed to do so by their health care provider.

Expectations (prognosis)

Most people recover in 5-8 days.

Complications

Immunosuppressed people with this condition are more vulnerable to sepsis, endocarditis, meningitis, and thrombophlebitis from the spread of the bacteria into their bloodstream.

Some patients will get a form of arthritis called reactive arthritis after a Campylobacter enteritis infection.

About 1 in 1,000 patients with campylobacter enteritis develop a nerve problem that results in paralysis, called Guillain-Barre syndrome. Paralysis associated with Guillain-Barre syndrome is usually temporary but requires medical attention.

Calling your health care provider

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if diarrhea comes back or continues for more than a week, or if there is blood in the stool.

Prevention

Avoid improperly prepared foods and practice sanitary food preparation.

References

Allos BM, Blaser MJ. Campylobacter jejuni and related species. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 216.

Craig SA, Zich DK. Gastroenteritis. In: Marx JA, ed. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 92.


Review Date: 5/25/2010
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine; and Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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