The Bacteria That Can Make You Sick This Summer
The bacteria Campylobacter jejuni (C. jejuni) is one of the most common causes of diarrheal illness in the United States. Campylobacteriosis usually occurs in single, sporadic cases, but can also occur in outbreaks, when two or more people become ill from the same source of bacteria. Isolated cases of C. jejuni infections are typically associated with eating raw or undercooked poultry or from contaminating other foods with fluids from raw or undercooked poultry. Larger outbreaks of C. jejuni infections are often linked with consuming unpasteurized dairy products, contaminated water sources, or contaminated produce.
The incidence of campylobacteriosis is highest in the summer months and is very low during the winter. Ingesting even a few Campylobacter jejuni organisms is enough to make a person sick. A single drop of juice from raw chicken meat can contain enough Campylobacter bacteria to cause an infection. A common way people contaminate foods and develop infections is when they cut poultry meat on a cutting board, then use the same unwashed cutting board or utensil to prepare vegetables or other raw or lightly cooked foods.
Simple food handling and hand washing practices can help prevent Campylobacter infections:
- Cook all poultry products thoroughly. Make sure the meat is cooked throughout, is no longer pink, and any juices run clear. All poultry should be cooked to reach a minimal internal temperature of 165°F.
- If you are served undercooked poultry in a restaurant, send it back for further cooking.
- Wash hands with soap before preparing food.
- Wash hands with soap after handling raw foods of animal origin, before touching any other items.
- Prevent cross contamination in the kitchen by using multiple cutting boards, one for foods of animal origin and another for other foods such as vegetables.
- Always thoroughly cleanse all cutting boards, countertops, and utensils with soap and hot water after preparing raw food of animal origin.
- Do not drink unpasteurized milk or untreated water.
- Make sure that persons with diarrhea, especially children, wash their hands carefully and frequently with soap to reduce the risk of spreading an infection to others.
- Always wash hands with soap after contact with pet feces.
Campylobacteriosis is estimated to affect over 1.3 million Americans every year. Most people who become ill with Campylobacteriosis get diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and fever within two to five days after exposure to the organism. The diarrhea may be bloody and can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. The intensity of the illness can vary, some infected individuals may not develop any symptoms. Rarely, C. jejuni can spread to the bloodstream and cause a serious, life-threatening infection.
Typically, the illness lasts about a week and almost all persons infected with Campylobacter recover without any specific treatment. Patients should drink extra fluids as long as the diarrhea persists. Treatment with antibiotics is warranted only if an individual develops a severe infection. Azithromycin and Ciprofloxacin are used to treat more serious infections. Unfortunately, Campylobacter’s growing resistance to antibiotics may complicate treatment of these infections in the future.
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Take care and have a healthy summer –
Cynthia Vanson, MD Assistant Medical Director, Urgent Care of Connecticut