Campylobacter - Symptoms

Authored by Dr Mary Harding, 03 Jun 2016

Patient is a certified member of
The Information Standard

Reviewed by:
Dr Laurence Knott, 03 Jun 2016

The typical symptoms are feeling sick (nausea), diarrhoea, and being sick (vomiting), although vomiting does not always occur. The diarrhoea can sometimes be bloody. You may also have crampy stomach pains and develop a high temperature (fever). Symptoms tend to come on within 2-5 days of eating the contaminated food or of being in contact with the contaminated animal. However, sometimes the time period before symptoms appear (known as the 'incubation period') can be as short as one day or as long as 11 days.

In most people, symptoms are relatively mild and improve within 2-3 days. About 9 in 10 affected people recover from the illness within one week. However, sometimes symptoms can be more severe and/or complications can occur. If symptoms are severe, lack of fluid in the body (dehydration) can occur.

Diarrhoea and being sick (vomiting) may cause lack of fluid in the body (dehydration). If you suspect your child may be becoming dehydrated then you should seek medical advice urgently. Children, especially young children, infants and babies, can become severely dehydrated and very ill very quickly. Mild dehydration is common and is usually easily reversed by drinking lots of fluids.

Symptoms of dehydration in children include:

  • Passing little urine.
  • A dry mouth.
  • A dry tongue and lips.
  • Fewer tears when crying.
  • Sunken eyes.
  • Weakness.
  • Being irritable.
  • Having a lack of energy (being lethargic).

Symptoms of severe dehydration in children include:

  • Drowsiness.
  • Pale or mottled skin.
  • Cold hands or feet.
  • Very few wet nappies.
  • Fast (but often shallow) breathing.

Severe dehydration is a medical emergency and immediate medical attention is needed.

Dehydration is more likely to occur in:

  • Babies under the age of 1 year (and particularly those under 6 months old). Because babies don’t have a large volume of body fluid, losing even a small amount can cause significant dehydration.
  • Babies under the age of 1 year who were a low birth weight and who have not caught up with their weight.
  • A breast-fed baby who has stopped breast-feeding during their illness.
  • Any baby or child who does not drink much when they have gastroenteritis.
  • Any baby or child with severe diarrhoea and sickness (vomiting). (For example, if they have passed five or more diarrhoeal stools and/or vomited two or more times in the previous 24 hours).

Symptoms of dehydration in adults include:

  • Tiredness.
  • Dizziness or light-headedness.
  • Headache.
  • Muscle cramps.
  • Sunken eyes.
  • Passing less urine.
  • A dry mouth and tongue.
  • Weakness.
  • Becoming irritable.

Symptoms of severe dehydration in adults include:

  • Profound loss of energy or enthusiasm (apathy).
  • Weakness.
  • Confusion.
  • A fast heart rate.
  • Producing very little urine.
  • Coma may occur.

Severe dehydration is a medical emergency and immediate medical attention is needed.

Dehydration in adults is more likely to occur in:

  • Elderly or frail people.
  • Pregnant women.
  • People with severe diarrhoea and vomiting. In particular, if you are not able to replace the fluid lost with sufficient drinks.

Further reading and references

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