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Foodborne Illness

What is Campylobacter?

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Campylobacter is one type of bacteria responsible for gastroenteritis or inflammation of the stomach and intestine. C. jejuni and C. coli are two of the Campylobacter species that target the lower regions (jejunum and colon) of the intestine. Eating contaminated foods such as eggs, poultry, milk and water or close contact with infected people or animals may cause an inflammation of the intestines. Symptoms may include abdominal pain, watery diarrhea, fever, or possibly blood stools. Until recently, several drugs such as tetracycline, ampicillin, and erythromycin were effectively used to treat the inflammation. Antimicrobial resistance develops when the microbe is able to survive the use of drugs meant to kill or weaken them. According to a study, bacterial resistance is caused by gaining new genes rather than by alteration of genes. Mobile elements called "integrons" may be responsible for the gain of new genes that cause bacterial resistance. Campylobacter spp. Isolates from human fecal samples and animal intestinal cultures were tested for antimicrobial resistance to several drugs including ampicillin, chloramphenicol, ciprofloxacin, colistin, erythromycin, gentamicin, nalidixic acid, spectinomycin, streptomycin, sulphafurazole, tetracycline, and trimethoprim. Results indicated that 17% of all isolates were resistant to ampicillin, chloramphenicol, ciprofloxacin, colistin, erythromycin, gentamicin, streptomycin, sulphonamide and to tetracycline. The presence of sulphonomide resistance in 62.3% of the isolates suggests that integron-like structures may exist in C. jejuni and C. coli. Campylobacter is isolated from animals, birds, and the environment, particularly surface water. Use of large housing facilities in animal husbandry may promote genetic exchange between large bacterial populations. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study, warm-loving Campylobacter species, particularly C. jejuni and c. coli, are one of the main causes of acute diarrheal disease in humans worldwide. Furthermore, the report specifies poultry as a major source of these bacteria. To reduce the chance of contracting and/or spreading the bacteria, the CDC provided several tips: Antimicrobial drugs intended for bacterial infections should not be taken for viral infections such as colds, coughs, or the flu. If your health care provider determines that you do not have a bacterial infection, ask about ways to help relieve your symptoms. Do not pressure your provider to prescribe an antibiotic. Take medicine exactly as your health care provider prescribes. Take the antibiotic until it is gone, even if you are feeling better. Do not save the medication to treat yourself or others later.

PREPARED BY: Angela M. Fraser, Ph.D., Associate Professor/Food Safety Specialist, NC State University in July 2004

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