About Campylobacter

From the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of Campylobacter and other foodborne illness outbreaks.

Chapter 1

Campylobacter Food Poisoning

How does Campylobacter cause food poisoning?

Campylobacter (camp-UH-low-back-ter) is a genus of bacteria that is among the most common causes of bacterial infections in humans worldwide. [1, 5, 6] The name means “curved rod,” deriving from the Greek campylos (curved) and baktron (rod). [5, 22] It has been noted that there “is wide diversity in the genus. The species are metabolically and genetically different to the extent that one can question whether one genus is adequate to house all of the species.” [22]

Of its many species, Campylobacter jejuni (juh-JUNE-eye) is considered one of the most important from both a microbiological and public health perspective. The history of this species of bacteria has been summarized as follows:

Awareness of the public health implications of Campylobacter infections has evolved over more than a century. In 1886, Escherich observed organisms resembling Campylobacters in stool samples of children with diarrhea. In 1913, McFaydean and Stockman identified Campylobacters (called related Vibrio) in fetal tissues of aborted sheep. In 1957, King described the isolation of related Vibrio from blood samples of children with diarrhea, and in 1972, clinical microbiologists in Belgium first isolated Campylobacters from stool samples of patients with diarrhea. The development of selective growth media in the 1970s permitted more laboratories to test stool specimens for Campylobacter. Soon Campylobacter [species] were established as common human pathogens.[1]

Campylobacter jejuni is a gram-negative, microaerophilic, thermophilic rod that grows best at 42°C (107°F) and low oxygen concentrations. [5, 22] These characteristics are adaptations for growth in its normal habitat—the intestines of warm-blooded birds and mammals. [1, 5] Several closely related species with similar characteristics, C. coli, C. fetus, and C. upsalienis, may also cause disease in humans, but are responsible for less than 1% of human infections annually. [1, 5, 12] “Campylobacters multiply more slowly than do the usual bacteria of the enteric flora and therefore cannot be isolated from fecal specimens unless selective techniques are used.” [5] Campylobacter is the most commonly isolated bacterial pathogen from persons suffering diarrheal illnesses, and C. jejuni is the most commonly isolated of the species. [28]

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