Campylobacter - Causes

How do you get campylobacter?

Campylobacter germs (bacteria) are commonly found in raw meat, particularly raw poultry such as chicken, turkey, etc. Cooking meat thoroughly usually kills the bacteria. Campylobacter may also be found in unpasteurised milk or untreated water (including ice cubes made from untreated water). Occasionally, mushrooms and shellfish can contain campylobacter.

Drinking untreated water whilst travelling is a common cause of campylobacter infection. Even if you are careful not to drink tap water, you may be using it without realising. For example, ice cubes might have been made from tap water, and salad vegetables are often washed in tap water. For more information on this situation, see separate leaflet called Traveller's Diarrhoea. Campylobacter is one of many possible germs which cause traveller's diarrhoea.

Pets (including cats and dogs) and other animals infected with campylobacter can also pass on the bacteria to you. For example, cases of campylobacter have occurred after visiting farms. (Note: in animals, campylobacter rarely causes any symptoms for the animals themselves.)

How common is campylobacter?

Campylobacter germs (bacteria) are the most common bacteria causing food poisoning in the UK. There are around 65,000 confirmed cases each year in England and Wales alone and probably many more which have not been tested. The Food Standards Agency believes at least 280,000 people are affected each year in the UK.

Who gets campylobacter?

Campylobacter food poisoning can affect anyone of any age. It may be more common in:

  • People who travel to developing countries where sanitation and food hygiene may be less strict.
  • People working with farm animals.
  • People who work in the meat industry.

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Dr Mary Harding
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Laurence Knott
Document ID:
12501 (v6)
Last Checked:
03 June 2016
Next Review:
03 June 2019

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.