Campylobacter jejuni
Tina Andrews
Campylobacter jejuni is a gram negative, spiral-shaped rod.  It is small (1.5 - 3.5 ?m long) with a flagellum at each end.  It is a microaerophile, requiring 3 - 5 % O2 and 2 - 10 % CO2.  It lacks the ability to form spores, and is unable to survive outside of its natural hosts for long periods of time.  It typically is found in the intestines of animals, both livestock and domestic.  It is a human pathogen, causing more cases of food poisoning than Salmonella and Shigella combined.

C. jejuni causes campylobacteriosis, characterized by diarrhea, cramping, vomiting, and fever.  The severe stomach cramps associated with C. jejuni have been mistaken for appendicitis.  In 1994, the UK reported that over 30 % of appendectomies were unnecessary.  They were due, not to appendicitis, but food poisoning.  This is doubly unfortunate because campylobacteriosis is often treated with simple hydration.  Oftentimes, antibiotics are not even prescribed.  The organism will pass through the feces without too much harm to the host.  In many cases, the biggest problem associated with campylobacteriosis infections is loss of water and electrolytes.

C. jejuni infections are fairly common, causing an estimated 2 million cases annually.  The most common mode of infection is when humans ingest the organism.  This can happen several ways:  inadequate cooking of meats (particularly poultry), cross contamination, person to person, and contaminated water or milk.

Infection of C. jejuni from inadequately cooked meats is not much of a threat. C. jejuni is a bit of a weenie, and it dies at fairly low temperatures.  Because it lacks the ability to form spores, anyone should be able to kill it.  Cross contamination is more common.  This usually occurs when poultry is handled and comes into contact with other, ready-to-eat foods.

The spread of C. jejuni person-to-person is something easily avoided, but that does not mean that the proper steps are taken.  Most commonly, infected people have Campylobacter jejuni in their feces, and transmission occurs when they do not wash their hands properly.  They spread the organism and it is picked up by other people who touch things they have touched.  Hand-to-mouth behavior, combined with poor hand washing, lead to transmission of C. jejuni.

Large outbreaks have been caused by the ingestion of unpasteurized milk.  In April of 1986, an elementary school was taken on a field trip to a dairy farm, where they ingested unpasteurized, contaminated milk.  All infected students had diarrhea, and most had cramping and nausea.  The cows supplying the milk were found to have C. jejuni in their feces.

One more, albeit rare, means of infection is from sheep.  So far, sheep meat has not been shown to cause illness, but several shepherds have been infected.  This is reported to be from mouth-to-mouth resuscitation of weak lambs, but I think anyone who has ever heard a joke about a shepherd knows better.

Though C. jejuni is extremely common, it is not terribly dangerous.  When it is treated with antibiotics, it is usually treated with erythromycin and cipromycin.  More commonly, it is simply allowed to pass.  The organism is fairly weak, so when precautions are taken when handling meat, feces, and animals, as well as monitored hand-to-mouth behavior, infection should not occur.

*Disclaimer - This report was written by a student participaring in a microbiology course at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. The accuracy of the contents of this report is not guaranteed and it is recommended that you seek additional sources of information to verify the contents.

 

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