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Campylobacter Infection in Children

What is Campylobacter infection in children?

Campylobacter infection is a mild to serious digestive illness caused by bacteria. It’s also called campylobacteriosis. Symptoms often include cramping, diarrhea, belly pain, and fever.

The Campylobacter bacteria most often affect babies, teens, and young adults.

What causes Campylobacter infection in a child?

The illness is caused by Campylobacter bacteria. The infection is more common in summer than in winter. A child may get the infection by eating or coming in contact with infected raw meat. In many cases, the raw meat is chicken. A child may also be infected by drinking contaminated water or unpasteurized dairy foods or drinks.

Another common way to get the infection is by contact with infected feces from pets such as cats, puppies, birds, and hamsters. 

What are the symptoms of Campylobacter infection in a child?

Symptoms of typically appear about 2 to 5 days after contact with the bacteria. Symptoms can occur a bit differently for each child. They may include:

  • Diarrhea that may be bloody
  • Belly (abdominal) cramping and pain
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue

A young child may have a seizure caused by fever.

The symptoms usually last about a week. In a child with a weak immune system, symptoms can become more severe and even life-threatening.

The symptoms of campylobacter infection can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is Campylobacter infection diagnosed in a child?

The healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. He or she will give your child a physical exam.

A stool sample will need to be taken to check for the bacteria. The test is done because illnesses with similar symptoms can be caused by many different kinds of bacteria.

How is Campylobacter infection treated in a child?

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

The symptoms usually last about a week. In some cases, the healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics to help ease symptoms and make your child feel better faster.

If your child has diarrhea, make sure he or she drinks plenty of water. This replaces water lost in diarrhea and helps prevent losing too much water (dehydration). Antidiarrheal medicine is not advised. This is because these medicines keep the bacteria in the body for a longer time. 

Talk with your child’s healthcare providers about the risks, benefits, and possible side effects of all medicines.

How can I help prevent Campylobacter infection in my child?

In most cases, the infection is caused by not handling food safely when preparing it. Even a single drop of contaminated juice from raw chicken can cause an infection.

You can prevent the spread of the bacteria by taking care when preparing food. Wash your hands after touching raw meat and before touching anything else. Cut all meat on one cutting board. Use a separate cutting board for fruits, vegetables, or other foods. Carefully throw away any marinade used on raw meat. Use a meat thermometer to make sure the inside of cooked meat reaches a safe temperature. Never put cooked meat on an unwashed dish that held raw meat.

Also make sure your family washes their hands with soap and hot water after playing with or touching a pet, changing a diaper, handling raw meat, or using the bathroom. If someone in your household has diarrhea, everyone should wash his or her hands often.

Contaminated water and unpasteurized dairy products are other common sources of campylobacter bacteria. It's best to not have dairy foods or drinks that are not heat-treated (pasteurized).

When should I call my child’s healthcare provider?

Call the healthcare provider if your child has:

  • Symptoms that don’t get better, or get worse
  • New symptoms

Key points about Campylobacter infection in children

  • Campylobacter infection a mild to serious digestive illness. The illness is caused by Campylobacter bacteria.
  • Symptoms often include cramping, diarrhea, belly pain, and fever.
  • A child may get the infection by eating or coming in contact with infected raw meat. In many cases, the raw meat is chicken. A child may be infected by drinking contaminated water or unpasteurized dairy foods or drinks.
  • Another common way to get the infection is by contact with infected feces from pets such as cats, puppies, birds, hamsters, and others. 
  • Also make sure your family washes hands with soap and hot water after playing with or touching a pet, changing a diaper, handling raw meat, or using the bathroom.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child. Also know what the side effects are.
  • Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
  • Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.
Online Medical Reviewer: Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: Lentnek, Arnold, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Sather, Rita, RN
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2016
© 2000-2017 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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