Don’t mess with campylobacter

Precautions that can help you avoid the campylobacter bacteria

A campylobacter outbreak beginning in September 2017 affecting 12 states was linked to pet store puppies. Campylobacter is bacteria that is a leading cause of foodborne illness in the United States, and as few as 500 cells can make you sick. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), campylobacter causes about 1.3 million campylobacteriosis illnesses every year. Symptoms of campylobacteriosis include diarrhea that may be bloody, cramps, fever and vomiting. After exposure, symptoms typically occur within 2-5 days and last another 2-10 days after onset.

Campylobacter bacteria can be spread through contact with dog feces, though usual sources include raw and undercooked poultry, unpasteurized milk and contaminated water. While campylobacter does not usually spread from person to person, changing an infected person’s diaper or sexual activity with an infected person can cause infection. Individuals most likely to experience severe infection from campylobacter include children under age 5, adults older than 65, pregnant women or those with weakened immune systems.

The current multistate outbreak has resulted in 55 confirmed or symptom-suspected cases: 14 of which were pet store employees, 35 had direct contact with a puppy through recent purchase or visiting the store, one through sexual contact, four were exposed to puppies through various sources and one had unknown puppy exposure. Affected states include Kansas, Maryland, Florida, Missouri, New York, New Hampshire, Ohio, Tennessee, Utah, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Clinical samples from both the people affected and the puppies appear to be antibiotic-resistant, meaning they will not respond to the antibiotics usually used for treating campylobacteriosis.


If you have symptoms of a campylobacter infection, rest and drink plenty of fluids. If you are unable to stay hydrated because of severe vomiting or diarrhea, contact your primary care provider. Antibiotics may be useful for severe cases, if given early and the strain of campylobacter is not antibiotic-resistant. While antibiotic resistance can occur whenever they are used, the CDC recommends preventing resistant campylobacter infections by using antibiotics appropriately in humans and animals, improving sanitation on farms to prevent the spread of the bacteria, and implementing disease prevention programs on farms to reduce the need for antibiotics.

Preventing spread of disease between humans and puppies or dogs
  • When selecting a dog, choose one that is bright, alert, and playful with soft shiny fur free from feces
  • Wash hands after handling dogs, touching their food, or cleaning up after them and supervise handwashing of young children
  • Remove and dispose of dog poop in yards, especially in areas where children might play
  • Clean up and disinfect inside areas with poop, urine, or vomit right away
  • Maintain regular visits with a veterinarian
  • Don’t let pets lick near your mouth, face, open wounds, or areas with broken skin
General prevention
  • Follow recommendations from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for good sanitary practices on farms to minimize spread of bacteria among animals and birds
  • Pasteurization of milk and treatment of municipal water
  • Report symptoms to help stop spread of infection to others
  • Follow safe food handling practices in the kitchen including minimizing cross-contamination between raw and ready to eat foods
  • Cook foods to a safe internal temperature, campylobacter are fragile and easily destroyed by safe minimum internal temperatures
  • Wash hands and surfaces often
  • Use paper towels in the kitchen or wash cloth towels in hot water in the washer

For additional resources on campylobacter and preventing foodborne illness, visit Michigan State University Extension

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