Infectious Disease

Cold Sores

Cold sores, sometimes called fever blisters, are groups of small blisters on the lip and around the mouth. The skin around the blisters is often red, swollen, and sore. The blisters may break open, leak a clear fluid, and then scab over after a few days. They usually heal in several days to 2 weeks.

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of herpes simplex virus: HSV-1 and HSV-2. Both virus types can cause sores around the mouth (herpes labialis) and on the genitals (genital herpes).

The herpes simplex virus usually enters the body through a break in the skin around or inside the mouth. It is usually spread when a person touches a cold sore or touches infected fluid — such as from sharing eating utensils or razors, kissing an infected person, or touching that person’s saliva. A parent who has a cold sore often spreads the infection to his or her child in this way. Cold sores can also be spread to other areas of the body.

There are some things you can do to keep from getting the herpes simplex virus.

  • Avoid coming into contact with infected body fluids, such as kissing an infected person.
  • Avoid sharing eating utensils, drinking cups, or other items that a person with a cold sore may have used.

The first symptoms of cold sores may include:

  • Pain around your mouth and on your lips
  • A fever
  • A sore throat
  • Swollen glands in your neck or other parts of the body

Small children sometimes drool before cold sores appear. After the blisters appear, the cold sores usually break open, leak a clear fluid, and then crust over and disappear after several days to 2 weeks. For some people, cold sores can be very painful.

Some people have the virus but don’t get cold sores. They have no symptoms.

Cold sores will usually start to heal on their own within a few days. But if they cause pain or make you feel embarrassed, they can be treated. Treatment may include skin creams, ointments, or sometimes pills. Treatment may get rid of the cold sores only 1 to 2 days faster, but it can also help ease painful blisters or other uncomfortable symptoms.

The herpes simplex virus that causes cold sores cannot be cured. After you get infected, the virus stays in your body for the rest of your life. However, there are a number of things you can do to reduce your number of outbreaks and prevent spreading the virus, including:

  • Avoid the things that trigger your cold sores, such as stress and colds or the flu.
  • Always use lip balm and sunscreen on your face. Too much sunlight can cause cold sores to flare.
  • Avoid sharing towels, razors, silverware, toothbrushes, or other objects that a person with a cold sore may have used.
  • When you have a cold sore, make sure to wash your hands often, and try not to touch your sore. This can help keep you from spreading the virus to your eyes or genital area or to other people.
  • Talk to your doctor if you get cold sores often. You may be able to take prescription pills to prevent cold sore outbreaks.

West Nile Virus

West Nile virus (WNV) is an emerging infectious disease that made its first appearance in North America in 1999. The microbe that causes the infection belongs to a group of disease-causing viruses known as flaviviruses that are usually spread by ticks or mosquitoes.

Other well-known diseases caused by flaviviruses include:

WNV is most commonly found in Africa, West Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

The first step in the transmission cycle of West Nile virus happens when a mosquito bites an infected bird or animal and gets the virus while feeding on the animal’s blood. The infected mosquito can then transmit the virus to another bird or animal when it feeds again.

Crows are highly susceptible to lethal infection, as are robins, blue jays, and other birds. Scientists have identified more than 138 bird species that can be infected and more than 43 mosquito species that can transmit WNV.

Although the virus usually cycles between mosquitoes and birds, infected female mosquitoes also can transmit WNV through their bites to humans and other “incidental hosts,” such as horses. With so many susceptible hosts to amplify the virus and so many types of mosquitoes to transmit it, WNV has spread rapidly across North America.

Most cases of human disease occur in elderly people and in people with impaired immune systems. WNV also can be transmitted through blood transfusions and organ transplants from WNV-infected donors. Health experts also believe it is possible for WNV to be transmitted from a mother to her unborn child and through breast milk.

People who get West Nile virus usually have only mild symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Body aches
  • Skin rash
  • Swollen lymph glands

If WNV enters the brain, however, it can cause life-threatening encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord).

Although licensed West Nile virus vaccines exist for horses, there are no specific vaccines or treatments for human WNV disease.

Viral Hepatitis

Viral hepatitis is liver inflammation due to a viral infection. It may present in acute (recent infection, relatively rapid onset) or chronic forms.

As viral hepatitis becomes more advanced, it may cause one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Fever
  • Dark urine
  • Stomach pain
  • Fatigue
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes, called jaundice
  • Mood change, forgetfulness
  • Black bowel movements, which indicate bleeding into the intestine

Treatment for hepatitis varies, depending on the type and severity of the disease.

The most common causes of viral hepatitis are the five unrelated hepatotropic viruses:

  • Hepatitis A – caused by hepatitis A virus (HAV) that is transmitted by the fecal-oral route often associated with ingestion of contaminated food. There is no specific therapy for acute hepatitis A infection. Therefore, prevention is the key. An effective vaccine is available and recommended for anyone with liver disease.
  • Hepatitis B – caused by hepatitis B virus (HBV) that is transmitted through blood, tattoos, sexually, or via mother to child by breast feeding. About 25% of people with chronic hepatitis B can be cured with a drug called pegylated interferon-alpha, which is taken as a weekly injection for six months. The alternative is suppression of the virus with oral medications. Suppression is recommended for patients with elevated viral levels and evidence of advancing liver disease.
  • Hepatitis C – caused by hepatitis C virus (HCV) that is transmitted through contact with blood (including through sexual contact if the two parties’ blood is mixed) and can also cross the placenta. The most effective therapy for hepatitis C is a drug combination consisting of pegylated interferon and ribavirin. Pegylated interferon is taken weekly as an injection and ribavirin is a twice daily tablet. The treatment is a form of chemotherapy and the ability to tolerate it varies widely for each person.Liver transplant may be an option for people whose hepatitis progresses to liver failure and who fail to respond to treatment or cannot tolerate treatment. Currently, almost one half of all liver transplants in North America are performed for end-stage hepatitis C.
  • Hepatitis D – caused by the hepatitis D virus (HDV) and can only propagate in the presence of the Hepatitis B virus. Transmission of HDV can occur either via simultaneous infection with HBV or via infection of an individual previously infected with HBV.
  • Hepatitis E – caused by the hepatitis E virus (HEV). HEV has a fecal-oral transmission route.

In addition to the hepatitis viruses, other viruses that can also cause hepatitis include:

  • Herpes simplex
  • Cytomegalovirus
  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • Yellow fever

Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy

Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) is caused by the reactivation of a common virus in the central nervous system of immune-compromised individuals.

Polyomavirus JC (often called JC virus) is carried by a majority of people and is harmless except among those with lowered immune defenses. The disease occurs, rarely, in organ transplant patients; people undergoing chronic corticosteroid or immunosuppressive therapy; and individuals with cancer, such as Hodgkin’s disease, lymphoma, and sarcoidosis.

PML is most common among individuals with acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

The symptoms of PML are the result of an infection that causes the loss of white matter (which is made up of myelin, a substance the surrounds and protects nerve fibers) in multiple areas of the brain. Without the protection of myelin, nerve signals can’t travel successfully from the brain to the rest of the body. Typical symptoms associated with PML are diverse, since they are related to the location and amount of damage in the brain, and evolve over the course of several days to several weeks. The most prominent symptoms are:

  • Clumsiness
  • Progressive weakness
  • Visual, speech, and sometimes, personality changes

The progression of deficits leads to life-threatening disability and death over weeks to months.

A positive diagnosis of PML can be made on brain biopsy, or by combining observation of a progressive course of the disease, consistent white matter lesions visible on a magnetic resonance image (MRI) scan, and the detection of the JC virus in spinal fluid.

The mortality rates for those with HIV-PML have fallen dramatically from approximately 90 percent to around 50 percent according to most reports, although they sometimes have an inflammatory reaction in the regions affected by PML. For non-AIDS individuals with PML, the prognosis remains grim; the disease usually lasts for months and 80 percent die within the first 6 months, although spontaneous improvement has been reported. Those who survive PML can be left with severe neurological disabilities.

Currently, the best available therapy is reversal of the immune-deficient state. This can sometimes be accomplished by alteration of chemotherapy or immunosuppression (even if it means losing non-vital transplanted organs). In the case of HIV-associated PML, immediately beginning anti-retroviral therapy will benefit most individuals.

Meningitis

Meningitis is an infection of the coverings around the brain and spinal cord.

The infection occurs most often in children, teens, and young adults. Also at risk are older adults and people who have long-term health problems, such as a weakened immune system.

There are two main kinds of meningitis:

  • Viral meningitis is fairly common. It usually does not cause serious illness. In severe cases, it can cause prolonged fever and seizures.
  • Bacterial meningitis is not as common but is very serious. It needs to be treated right away to prevent brain damage and death.

Viral meningitis is caused by viruses. Bacterial meningitis is caused by bacteria. Meningitis can also be caused by other organisms and some medicines, but this is rare.

Meningitis is contagious. The germs that cause it can be passed from one person to another through coughing and sneezing and through close contact.

The best way to protect your child from meningitis is to make sure he or she gets all the standard immunizations for children. These include shots for measles, chicken pox, Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) disease, and pneumococcal infection. Talk to your doctor about whether you or your child also needs the meningococcal vaccine, which is a shot to prevent bacterial meningitis. It is recommended for:

  • Babies, children, and young adults.
  • University freshman living in dormitories.
  • People who plan to travel to countries known to have meningitis outbreaks.
  • People without a spleen.
  • People with HIV.

The most common symptoms of meningitis among teens and young adults are:

  • A stiff and painful neck, especially when you try to touch your chin to your chest.
  • Fever.
  • Headache.
  • Vomiting.
  • Trouble staying awake.
  • Seizures.

Children, older adults, and people with other medical problems may have different symptoms:

  • Babies may be cranky and refuse to eat. They may have a rash. They may cry when held.
  • Young children may act like they have the flu. They may cough or have trouble breathing.
  • Older adults and people with other medical problems may have only a slight headache and fever.

The two kinds of meningitis share the same symptoms. It’s very important to see a doctor if you have symptoms, so that he or she can find out which type you have. Bacterial meningitis can be deadly if not treated right away.

Lumbar puncture (spinal tap) is the most important lab test for meningitis. A sample of fluid is removed from the spine and tested to see if it contains organisms that cause the illness. Your doctor may also order other tests, such as blood tests, a CT scan, or an MRI.

Treatment depends on the cause. Bacterial meningitis is treated in a hospital. You or your child will get antibiotics and you will be watched carefully to prevent serious problems such as hearing loss, seizures, or brain damage.

Viral meningitis is more common, and most people with this form of the illness get better in about 2 weeks. With mild cases, you may only need home treatment. Home treatment includes drinking lots of fluids and taking medicine for fever and pain.

HTLV-1 Associated Myelopathy / Tropical Spastic Paraparesis

For several decades the term “tropical spastic paraparesis” (TSP) has been used to describe a chronic and progressive disease of the nervous system that affects adults living in equatorial areas of the world. The cause of TSP was obscure until the mid-1980s, when an important association was established between the human retrovirus — human T-cell lymphotrophic virus type 1 (also known as HTLV-1) — and TSP. TSP is now called HTLV-1 associated myelopathy/tropical spastic paraparesis or HAM/TSP.

The HTLV-1 retrovirus is thought to cause at least 80 percent of the cases of HAM/TSP by impairing the immune system.

Symptoms of HAM/TSP include:

  • Progressive weakness
  • Stiff muscles
  • Muscle spasms
  • Sensory disturbance
  • Sphincter dysfunction

In addition to neurological symptoms of weakness and muscle stiffness or spasms, in rare cases individuals with HAM/TSP also exhibit:

  • Uveitis – inflammation of the uveal tract of the eye
  • Arthritis – inflammation of one or more joints
  • Pulmonary lymphocytic alveolitis – inflammation of the lung
  • Polymyositis – an inflammatory muscle disease
  • Keratoconjunctivitis sicca – persistent dryness of the cornea and conjunctiva
  • Infectious dermatitis – inflammation of the skin

The other serious complication of HTLV-1 infection is the development of adult T-cell leukemia or lymphoma. Nervous system and blood-related complications occur only in a very small proportion of infected individuals, while most remain largely without symptoms throughout their lives.

The HTLV-1 virus is transmitted person-to-person via infected cells:

  • Breast-feeding by mothers who are seropositive – have high levels of virus antibodies in their blood
  • Sharing infected needles during intravenous drug use
  • Having sexual relations with a seropositive partner

Less than 2 percent of HTLV-1 seropositive carriers will become HAM/TSP patients.

HAM/TSP is a progressive disease, but it is rarely fatal. Most individuals live for several decades after the diagnosis. Their prognosis improves if they take steps to prevent urinary tract infection and skin sores, and if they participate in physical and occupational therapy programs.

There is no established treatment program for HAM/TSP. Corticosteroids may relieve some symptoms, but aren’t likely to change the course of the disorder. Clinical studies suggest that interferon alpha provides benefits over short periods and some aspects of disease activity may be improved favorably using interferon beta. Stiff and spastic muscles may be treated with lioresal or tizanidine. Urinary dysfunction may be treated with oxybutynin.

HIV AIDS

Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, called AIDS, is the advanced stage of infection caused by the human immunodeficiency virus or HIV, which over time destroys the immune system.

HIV

As soon as HIV enters the body, it begins to disable or destroy these cells, often without causing symptoms. Even if you don’t experience HIV symptoms, the virus is actively multiplying, infecting and killing cells of the immune system — CD4+T cells, which are the immune system’s key infection fighters.

HIV can be spread by:

  • Blood transfusions with HIV-infected blood. This is rare since all donated blood is tested for HIV.
  • HIV-contaminated needles.
  • Sexual contact, especially intercourse or anal sex.
  • A mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.

Sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis, genital herpes, chlamydia or gonorrhea appear to increase the susceptibility of getting HIV during sex with infected partners.

In rare instances, HIV can be spread by:

  • A bite by someone infected with HIV.
  • Blood from an HIV-infected person entering an open wound.
  • Sharing personal hygiene items, such as razors and toothbrushes, with a person infected with HIV.

HIV is not spread through casual contact such as sharing food, utensils, towels, bedding, swimming pools, telephones or toilet seats. HIV also is not spread by insects, such as mosquitoes or bedbugs.

Many people don’t have any symptoms when they first become infected with HIV. Some have a flu-like illness, called HIV sero-conversion syndrome, a month or two after exposure to the virus. This illness may cause a variety of symptoms including:

  • Diarrhea
  • Enlarged liver or spleen
  • Fever
  • Enlarged or swollen lymph nodes
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Neurologic symptoms
  • Rash on the abdomen, arms and legs and face
  • Sore throat
  • Thrush, a common fungal infection of the mouth caused by Candida, a yeast-like fungus

These symptoms usually disappear in a week to a month and may be mistaken for other viral infections. During this period, people are very infectious and HIV is present in large quantities in genital fluids.

An infected person may not experience severe symptoms for eight to 10 years or more. This period — called the asymptomatic period — varies in length for each person. Some people may have symptoms within a few months and others may be symptom-free for years.

Children born with HIV usually have symptoms within two years of birth. Children may grow slowly or become sick frequently.

As the immune system weakens, other complications may occur. For many people, the first signs of infection are large lymph nodes or swollen glands that may be enlarged for more than three months. Other symptoms before the onset of AIDS include:

  • Fevers and sweats
  • Herpes infections that cause severe mouth, genital or anal sores
  • Lack of energy
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease in women that does not respond to treatment
  • Persistent skin rashes or flaky skin
  • Shingles, a painful nerve disease often accompanied by a rash or blisters
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Weight loss

AIDS

AIDS is the advanced stage of HIV infection, when the immune system is damaged. Without treatment, about half of those with HIV develop AIDS within 10 years, although the period between infection and development varies widely from one to 20 years.

Symptoms are caused by the deterioration of the immune system and the decline of CD4+ T cells that are the immune system’s key infection fighters. As soon as HIV enters the body, it begins to destroy these cells.

Some common symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea that lasts for more than a week
  • Dry cough
  • Memory loss, depression and neurological disorders
  • Pneumonia
  • Profound, unexplained fatigue
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Recurring fever or profuse night sweats
  • Red, brown, pink or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose or eyelids
  • Swollen lymph glands in the armpits, groin or neck
  • White spots or unusual blemishes on the tongue, in the mouth, or in the throat

People with AIDS have difficulty fighting infections caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites and often die from opportunistic infections, rather than from AIDS itself. Symptoms of opportunistic infections common with AIDS include:

  • Coma
  • Coughing and shortness of breath
  • Difficult or painful swallowing
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Fever
  • Mental symptoms such as confusion and forgetfulness
  • Nausea, abdominal cramps and vomiting
  • Seizures and lack of coordination
  • Severe, persistent diarrhea
  • Severe headaches
  • Vision loss
  • Weight loss

AIDS is now a pandemic. In 2007, it was estimated that 33.2 million people lived with the disease worldwide, and that AIDS killed an estimated 2.1 million people, including 330,000 children.

Although treatments for AIDS and HIV can slow the course of the disease, there is no known cure or vaccine. Antiretroviral treatment reduces both the mortality and the morbidity of HIV infection, but these drugs are expensive and require routine access to them.

Due to the difficulty in treating HIV infection, preventing infection is a key aim in controlling the AIDS pandemic. Health organizations promote safe sex and needle-exchange programs in attempts to slow the spread of the virus.

Hand-Foot-And-Mouth Disease

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is caused by intestinal viruses of the Picornaviridae family (enterovirus). It causes sores in the mouth and on the hands, feet, and sometimes the buttocks and legs. Mouth sores can be painful and may make it hard for your child to eat.

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease affects many children under 10 as well as young adults. It can occur at any time of year, but hand-foot-and-mouth disease is most common in the summer and fall.

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is not the same as other diseases that have similar names: foot-and-mouth disease (sometimes called hoof-and-mouth disease) or mad cow disease. These diseases almost always occur in animals.

The virus spreads easily through coughing and sneezing. You can also get it by coming in contact with infected stool, such as when you change a diaper. Often the disease breaks out within a community. Children are most likely to spread the disease during the first week of the illness. But the virus stays in the stool and can sometimes spread to others for several months after the blisters and sores have healed.

It usually takes 3 to 6 days for a person to get symptoms of hand-foot-and-mouth disease after being exposed to the virus. This is called the incubation period.

At first your child may:

  • Feel tired
  • Get a sore throat
  • Have a fever of around 38°C (101°F) to 39°C (103°F)

Then in a day or two, your child may get sores or blisters on the hands, feet, mouth, and sometimes the buttocks. In some cases a child will get a skin rash before the blisters appear. The blisters may break open and crust over. The sores and blisters usually go away in a week or so.

The disease is not serious, and it usually goes away in 7 to 10 days. It does not usually need treatment. You can use home care to help relieve your child’s symptoms.

  • Offer your child plenty of cool fluids. Your child may also have Popsicles and ice cream.
  • Do not give your child acidic or spicy foods and drinks, such as salsa or orange juice. These foods can make mouth sores more painful.
  • For pain and fever, give your child acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen (such as Advil). Do not give your child ASA. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.

To help prevent the disease from spreading:

  • Teach all family members to wash their hands often. It is especially important to wash your hands after you change the diaper of an infected child. This is because the virus may stay in the stool for several months after the blisters heal.
  • Do not let your child share toys or give kisses while he or she is infected.
  • If your child goes to daycare or school, talk to the staff about when your child can return.
  • Wear latex or rubber gloves when you apply any lotion, cream, or ointment to your child’s blisters.

E. Coli

Hundreds of E. coli strains are harmless, including those that thrive in the intestinal tracts of humans and other warm-blooded animals. These strains are part of the protective microbial community in the intestine and are essential for general health. Other strains, such as E. coli serotype O157:H7, enterohemorrhagic E. coli, enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC), and enteropathogenic E. coli (EPEC) cause serious poisoning in humans. E. coli O157:H7 can produce one or more kinds of poisons that can severely damage the lining of the intestines and kidneys. These types of bacteria are called Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC).

E. coli O157:H7 has caused major disease outbreaks in North America. It is estimated that 70,000 cases of infection with E. coli O157:H7 occur in North America every year.

Cattle are the main sources of E. coli O157:H7, but these bacteria are also in other domestic and wild mammals. Most illness has been associated with:

  • Contaminated food or water
  • Contact with an infected person
  • Contact with animals that carry the bacteria

The most common contaminated foods and liquids that have caused E. coli outbreaks include:

  • Undercooked or raw hamburgers
  • Salami
  • Produce such as spinach, lettuce, sprouted seeds
  • Unpasteurized milk, apple juice, and apple cider
  • Contaminated well water or surface water frequented by animals

STEC can also occur by

  • Failure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water following contact with an infected animal or animal waste. This can occur at farms, petting zoos, fairs, or even in your own backyard
  • Failure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water following contact with an infected person
  • Swallowing unchlorinated or underchlorinated water in swimming pools contaminated by human feces
  • Swimming in water with even very low levels of sewage contamination
  • Consuming contaminated food, water, or ice

Shiga toxin-producing E. coli can cause bloody diarrhea and can lead to kidney failure, especially in young children or in people with weakened immune systems. Other symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Severe abdominal cramps
  • Watery or very bloody diarrhea
  • Fatigue

STEC can also cause low-grade fever or vomiting. Symptoms usually begin from 2 to 5 days after eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated liquids. Symptoms may last for 8 days, and most people recover completely from the disease.

Early supportive treatment is important for people with E. coli infection, especially those who have Shiga toxin-producing E. coli.

There is no evidence that treatment with antibiotics is helpful, and taking antibiotics may increase the risk of hemolytic uremic syndrome, a serious complication of STEC that can lead to kidney failure.

To prevent Shiga toxin-producing E. coli infection, you should:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly after going to the bathroom or changing diapers
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after handling animals, animal bedding, or any material contaminated with animal fecal matter
  • Eat only thoroughly cooked ground beef, pork, sheep meat, or sausage
  • Cook ground meat products to an internal temperature of 160ºF
  • Avoid drinking unpasteurized milk and juices
  • Wash fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating raw
  • Prevent cross contamination in food preparation areas by washing hands, counters, cutting boards, and utensils after they touch raw meat
  • Keep raw meat separate from ready-to-eat foods

Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome

Hemolytic uremic syndrome, (HUS), a serious complication of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, can lead to kidney failure and death. Children are particularly prone to this complication, and HUS is the most common cause of acute kidney failure In North America.

Blood transfusions and kidney dialysis, performed in the intensive care unit of a hospital, are needed to treat this life-threatening condition. About 8 percent of people with HUS have other lifelong complications, such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • Seizures
  • Blindness
  • Paralysis
  • The effects of having part of their intestines removed

Campylobacteriosis

Campylobacteriosis is an infectious disease caused by bacteria called Campylobacter. Campylobacter jejuni, C. fetus, and C. coli are the types that usually cause the disease in people. It is transmitted by eating or handling contaminated food or drinking contaminated beverages.

More than 10,000 cases of campylobacteriosis are reported in North America each year. It is estimated that 100 people die of the disease yearly. The disease occurs more frequently in summer than winter.

C. jejuni causes most cases of this foodborne disease. C. jejuni is the leading cause of bacterial diarrheal illness in North America, affecting about 2.4 million people every year. The bacteria cause between 5 and 14 percent of all diarrheal illness worldwide. C. jejuni primarily affects children less than 5 years old and young adults 15 to 29 years old.

You can get infected with Campylobacter from:

  • Handling raw poultry
  • Eating undercooked poultry
  • Drinking nonchlorinated water or raw milk
  • Handling infected human or animal feces

Most frequently, poultry and cattle waste are the sources of the bacteria, but feces from puppies, kittens, and birds also may be contaminated with the bacteria.

If you are infected with Campylobacter, you may have no symptoms. If you do, they can include:

  • Diarrhea (often bloody)
  • Abdominal cramping and pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever
  • Tiredness

Campylobacteriosis usually lasts for 2 to 5 days, but in some cases as long as 10 days.

If you are like most people infected with Campylobacter, you will get better with no special treatment. If you need treatment, your health care provider can prescribe an antibiotic such as ciprofloxacin or azithromycin. Erythromycin helps treat diarrhea caused by Campylobacter. If you have diarrhea, be sure to drink plenty of water.

Complications are rare, however they do occur. Some people with campylobacteriosis have convulsions with fever or meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the spinal cord). Others develop arthritis. A small number of people may develop Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), the leading cause of acute paralysis in North America. This rare condition develops from 2 to 4 weeks after Campylobacter infection and usually after diarrheal symptoms have disappeared. People with GBS suffer from increasing paralysis of the limbs which lasts for several weeks. In more severe cases, they develop breathing problems requiring very long hospital stays.

To avoid becoming infected with campylobacteriosis:

  • Wash hands before preparing food
  • Wash hands immediately after handling raw poultry or other meat
  • Wash thoroughly with soap and hot water all food preparation surfaces and utensils that have come in contact with raw meat
  • Cook poultry products to an internal temperature of 170ºF for breast meat and 180ºF for thigh meat
  • Don’t drink unpasteurized milk
  • Don’t drink unchlorinated water that isn’t boiled
  • Wash hands after handling pet feces or visiting petting zoos