Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK.
Undercooked meat (especially poultry) is often associated with illness, as is unpasteurised milk and untreated water. Although it does not normally grow in food, it has a low infective dose so only a few bacteria (less than 500) can cause illness.
Campylobacter is also recognised as a frequent cause of 'traveller diarrhoea'.
Anyone can become infected with Campylobacter. Human infection usually results from eating or handling raw or undercooked meat (usually poultry) or from cross-contamination during food preparation. Infection can also result from drinking untreated water and ice or unpasteurised milk, or from direct contact with infected pets.
Although most unpleasant, the illness is rarely fatal in the developed world, even in babies or the elderly.
Rarely, some long-term consequences can result from a Campylobacter infection. Some people may have arthritis following campylobacteriosis; others may develop a rare disease that affects the nerves of the body beginning several weeks after the diarrheal illness.
This disease, called Guillain-Barré syndrome, occurs when a person's immune system is "triggered" to attack the body's own nerves, and can lead to paralysis that lasts several weeks and usually requires intensive care.
It is estimated that approximately one in every 1000 reported campylobacteriosis cases leads to Guillain-Barré syndrome.
The majority of patients do not require specific treatment and make a full recovery. There is an effective antibiotic treatment available for complicated or unusually severe cases.
Campylobacter is the commonest bacterial cause of infectious intestinal disease in the industrialised world. Most cases are sporadic and related to fresh poultry meat. However, foodborne outbreaks are rare as Campylobacter does not multiply in food. Large outbreaks are usually associated with raw or inadequately pasteurised milk and contaminated water supplies.
Cases of Campylobacter infection are more common in late spring and early autumn.
The number of laboratory reports of Campylobacter in Wales can be viewed from our interactive data dashboard.
Campylobacters are ubiquitous in the environment and poultry are particularly susceptible to carrying the bacteria without becoming ill themselves (colonisation). However, only a small number of bacteria are required to cause illness in humans and cross-contamination of ready-to-eat foods by raw meat may be an important route of infection.
Prevention measures include the proper treatment of public water supplies, the adequate pasteurisation of milk (and avoiding milk and dairy products that are unpasteurised) and employing hygienic handling, preparation, cooking and storage procedures for raw meats and other animal products.
Additionally simple measures such as washing hands after contact with pets, after using the toilet and after cleaning up after others, especially children or pets with diarrhoea, can reduce the spread of infection from this (and other) bacteria.
One important role of Public Health Wales is the collection and interpretation of data about the levels of infectious disease in the Welsh population. Key infections, including Campylobacter, are under constant surveillance, to detect significant trends, to evaluate prevention and control measures, to identify and manage disease outbreaks and to alert appropriate professionals and organisations to infectious disease threats.
Public Health Wales is also involved in Foods Standards Agency (FSA)-funded research to investigate Campylobacter contamination in chicken available to the consumer.