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The Long-Term Physical Effects of Campylobacter

Campylobacter jejuni is one of the leading causes of bacterial gastroenteritis. In the United States, these bacteria are the most common cause of bacterial foodborne illness, ahead of Salmonella—the second most common cause. When a person is infected and develops symptoms, the illness is called Campylobacteriosis.

Most retail chicken is contaminated with Campylobacter. One study reported an isolation rate of 98% for retail chicken meat. Campylobacter counts often exceed 103 per 100 g. Skin and giblets have particularly high levels of contamination. In one study, 12% of raw milk samples from dairy farms in eastern Tennessee were contaminated with Campylobacter. Campylobacter is also found in red meat. In one study, Campylobacter was present in 5% of raw ground beef and in 40% of veal specimens.

The amount of time from infection to the onset of symptoms—typically referred to as the incubation period—can vary to a significant degree. The incubation period is 1 to 10 days, with most cases occurring 3 to 5 days after exposure.

Although most cases of Campylobacteriosis are self-limiting, up to 20% have a prolonged illness (longer than 1 week) or a relapse, and 2 to 10% may be followed by chronic sequelae. Typical symptoms of Campylobacter infection include fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, headache, and muscle pain. Such infections can also be severe and life-threatening. Death is more common when other diseases (e.g., cancer, liver disease, and immuno-deficiency diseases) are present.

The illness usually lasts no more than one week; however, severe cases may persist for up to three weeks, and roughly 25% of individuals experience symptom relapse. In most cases, the worst of the illness, which is to say the most intense and painful of the symptoms, lasts 24-48 hours, before then taking a week to fully resolve.

For those persons who suffer a Campylobacter infection that does not resolve on its own, the complications (or sequelae) can be many. Complications can include septicemia (bacterial pathogens in the blood, also known as bacteremia), meningitis, inflammation of the gall bladder (cholecystitis), urinary tract infections, and appendicitis.

A sizeable percentage of persons who suffer Campylobacter infections develop Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which causes neuromuscular paralysis. Over time, the paralysis is to some extent typically reversible; nonetheless, approximately 20% of patients with GBS are left disabled, and approximately 5% die.

An estimated one case of GBS occurs for every 1,000 Campylobacter infections. Along these same lines, researchers estimate that between 20% and 40% of all GBS cases are caused by Campylobacter infections. Indeed, up to 40% of GBS patients have evidence of recent Campylobacter infection.

GBS occurs when an infected person’s immune system makes antibodies against components of Campylobacter, and these antibodies attack components of the body’s nerve cells because they are chemically similar to bacterial components. Miller Fisher Syndrome is another, related neurological syndrome that can follow Campylobacteriosis, and is also caused by a triggered immune-response. Overall, there is no one factor that appears to cause a greater percentage of GBS cases other than Campylobacter infections.

Another chronic condition that may be associated with Campylobacter infection is a condition formerly known as Reiter’s syndrome, a form of reactive arthritis. Multiple joints can be affected, particularly the knee joint. Pain and incapacitation can last for months or become chronic. Reactive Arthritis is a complication that is strongly associated with a particular genetic make-up—that is, persons who have the human lymphocyte antigen B27 (HLA-B27) are most susceptible. Most often, the symptoms of reactive arthritis can occur up to several weeks after infections.

Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, is the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of Campylobacteroutbreaks. The Campylobacter lawyers of Marler Clark have represented thousands of victims of Campylobacter and other foodborne illness outbreaks and have recovered over $800 million for clients. Marler Clark is the only law firm in the nation with a practice focused exclusively on foodborne illness litigation. Our Campylobacter lawyers have litigated Campylobacter cases stemming from outbreaks traced to a variety of sources, such as chicken, raw milk and municipal water.

If you or a family member became ill with a Campylobacter infection, including Guillain-Barré Syndrome, or GBS, after consuming food and you’re interested in pursuing a legal claim, contact the Marler Clark Campylobacter attorneys for a free case evaluation.

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