Campylobacter - Diagnosis

How is campylobacter diagnosed?

Many people will recognise food poisoning from the typical symptoms. If your symptoms are mild, you do not usually need to seek medical advice or receive specific medical treatment. So, you may have campylobacter infection that is not 'confirmed'.

However, in some circumstances, you may need to seek medical advice when you have food poisoning (see below about when to seek medical advice). The doctor or nurse may ask you questions about recent travel abroad or any ways that you may have eaten or drunk contaminated food or water. They will also usually check you for signs of lack of fluid in the body (dehydration). They may check your temperature, pulse and blood pressure. They may also examine your tummy (abdomen) to look for any tenderness.

The doctor or nurse may ask you to collect a stool (faeces) sample. The sample of your stool is sent to the laboratory for testing. Campylobacter is confirmed if the germ (bacterium) is found in your stool sample.

A stool sample is not always needed. Your doctor is likely to suggest one in certain situations, such as:

  • If you have recently been abroad.
  • If you are very unwell.
  • If you have blood or pus in your stools (faeces).
  • If your diarrhoea is not settling after a week.
  • If you have recently been in hospital or had antibiotic treatment.
  • If you have another medical condition, particularly one which affects your immune system.
  • If the doctor is not sure you have food poisoning or a gut infection (gastroenteritis).
  • If your job involves handling food.

The reason a stool sample is not always needed is that in many cases knowing what germ you have does not make any difference to the treatment you need. Most cases of campylobacter get better on their own even before the stool test result is back.

When should I seek medical advice?

Children

If your child has gastroenteritis from any cause (including possible food poisoning caused by campylobacter), you should seek medical advice in the following situations:

  • If your child is under the age of 6 months.
  • If your child has an underlying medical condition (for example, heart or kidney problems, diabetes, history of premature birth).
  • If your child has a high temperature (fever).
  • If you suspect a lack of fluid in the body (dehydration) is developing (see earlier).
  • If your child appears drowsy or confused.
  • If your child is being sick (vomiting) and is unable to keep fluids down.
  • If there is blood in their diarrhoea or vomit.
  • If your child has severe tummy (abdominal) pain.
  • Infections caught abroad.
  • If your child has severe symptoms, or if you feel that their condition is becoming worse.
  • If your child's symptoms are not settling (for example, vomiting for more than 1-2 days, or diarrhoea that does not start to settle after 3-4 days).
  • If there are any other symptoms that you are concerned about.

Adults

If you have gastroenteritis from any cause (including possible food poisoning caused by campylobacter), you should seek medical advice in any of the following situations:

  • If you suspect that you are becoming dehydrated.
  • If you are vomiting a lot and unable to keep fluids down.
  • If you have blood in your diarrhoea or vomit.
  • If you have severe abdominal pain.
  • If you have severe symptoms, or if you feel that your condition is becoming worse.
  • If you have a persisting high fever.
  • If your symptoms are not settling - for example, vomiting for more than 1-2 days, or diarrhoea that does not start to settle after 3-4 days.
  • Infections caught abroad.
  • If you are elderly or have an underlying health problem such as diabetes, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, kidney disease.
  • If you have a weakened immune system because of, for example, chemotherapy treatment, long-term steroid treatment, HIV infection.
  • If you are pregnant.
  • If you suspect that you may have contracted food poisoning from eating restaurant or takeaway food (see below).
  • If there are any other symptoms that you are concerned about

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Author:
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.