Foodborne Illnesses / Campylobacter /

Symptoms of Campylobacter infection

What are the symptoms of Campylobacter food poisoning?

Not all Campylobacter infections cause obvious illness. Symptomatic infection occurs almost exclusively in infants and young children, who can be infected repeatedly. Subsequent infections tend to be asymptomatic, making symptomatic disease rare in older children or adults.

The lack of symptoms can be the result of two things—the relative susceptibility (or immunity) of the person infected and the dose of organisms that reach the small intestines. When a person is infected and develops symptoms, the illness is called campylobacteriosis.

The amount of time from infection to symptom onset—typically referred to as the incubation period—can vary to a significant degree. It is relatively short, ranging from 1 to 7 days, with an average of 3 days. Higher inocula may result in shorter incubation periods.

Infection is typically established in the lower intestines and colon, and initially causes noninflammatory diarrhea. This is followed by a locally invasive stage that leads to cell damage and intestinal inflammation (dysentery), stomach cramps, and severe diarrhea, much the same as that which occurs with Salmonella and Shigella gastrointestinal infections. Diarrhea is the most consistent and prominent manifestation of campylobacteriosis and is often bloody.

Two researchers, Fischer and Paterek, explain:

Infection from Campylobacter typically manifests as enteritis with voluminous diarrhea. Individuals may experience a prodromal phase of symptoms lasting 1 to 3 days. Symptoms of the prodromal phase include high fever, rigors, dizziness and body aches. This prodromal phase is associated with a more severe disease course. The onset of symptoms typically occurs 24 to 72 hours following ingestion of the bacteria; though it may take longer to develop in individuals infected with smaller amounts of bacteria. The peak of illness generally lasts 24 to 48 hours. The average time for the acute diarrheal phase of Campylobacter enteritis is approximately 7 days. It is not uncommon for symptoms of abdominal pain to persist for days to weeks after resolution of diarrhea. Patients may continue to excrete organisms in the feces for several weeks following clinical improvement though patients receiving antimicrobial therapy appear to have a reduced likelihood of continued excretion.
During the acute phase of the illness, abdominal cramping and multiple episodes of diarrhea are common. Greater than 10 stools per day may occur. Bloody and mucous-like stools are common and result from the of the invasion of the epithelium by the bacteria in the intestine. This leads to inflammatory lesions and mucosal damage. Abdominal pain may mimic appendicitis due to acute ileocolitis.