About Campylobacter

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

Chapter 5

Symptoms of Campylobacter infection

What are the symptoms of Campylobacter food poisoning?

Not all Campylobacter infections cause the infected person to fall ill or develop symptoms. [5]

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. [5, 28] When a person is infected and develops symptoms, the illness is called Campylobacteriosis. [12, 28]

The amount of time from infection to the onset of symptoms—typically referred to as the incubation period—can vary to a significant degree. According to one authoritative text, “the incubation period varies from 1 to 7 days, a characteristic that is probably inversely related to the dose ingested.” [5] Others note that the “incubation period is 1 to 10 days, with most cases occurring 3 to 5 days after exposure.” [28] Most agree, however, that incubation periods of greater than 7 days are not uncommon. [1, 5, 6, 26, 28]

Diarrhea is the most consistent and prominent manifestation of Campylobacteriosis, and is often bloody. [1, 6, 9] As one article summarizes:

Campylobacteriosis symptoms can range from diarrhea and lethargy that lasts a day to severe diarrhea and abdominal pain (and occasionally fever) that lasts for several weeks. Diarrhea and abdominal pain are the most common symptoms and the vast majority of cases are mild. [Two researchers] report that abdominal pain from Campylobacteriosis can be so strong that it has been misdiagnosed as originating from appendicitis and has led to unnecessary appendectomy… [28]

Although most cases of Campylobacteriosis are self-limiting, up to 20% have a prolonged illness (longer than 1 week) or a relapse [5], and 2 to 10% may be followed by chronic sequelae. [6, 15] Other typical symptoms of C. jejuni infection include fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, headache, and muscle pain. [1, 15] Such infections can also be severe and life-threatening.[5, 6] Death is more common when other diseases (e.g., cancer, liver disease, and immuno-deficiency diseases) are present. [1, 5, 28] One often-cited study estimates that 200 to 730 persons dies as a result of Campylobacter infections each year. [8, 26]

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. [5, 15, 28] 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. [6]

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