Campylobacter jejuni is one of the leading causes of gastroenteritis, inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, in humans, known as campylobacteriosis. Ingestion of C. jejuni is rarely life threatening, but it can lead to the development of Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) a few weeks after the initial food poisoning.
What is Campylobacter jejuni?
C. jejuni is a curved, rod-shaped bacteria that is often found in animal feces. It is often associated with poultry and can be found in the GI tracts of many species of birds. It has also been found in the feces of some mammals, including kangaroo.
How do humans become infected?
Contaminated water, food and unpasteurized milk are all sufficient to pass C. jejuni from animals to humans. Meat that is not prepared correctly is often the cause of small isolated outbreaks. Water contamination by infected feces and unpasteurized milk cause much larger numbers to become ill.
What are symptoms of food poisoning by C. jejuni?
When infected by the C. jejuni bacteria, the main symptom is acute diarrhea. The person can also suffer other gastroenteritis symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever and fatigue. The illness often occurs from two to five days after the bacteria has been ingested, with the symptoms lasting anywhere from 24 hours to a week and occasionally longer in rare cases.
The infection is self-limiting so antibiotics are rarely prescribed for treatment. If the infection persists for longer periods or is very severe, antibiotics, such as erythromycin, could be used. Fluids and electrolytes need to be replaced in all cases.
GBS is an autoimmune disease. This is caused by an overactive immune response by the body against tissues or substances found in the body (auto = self). In other words, the body's immune system is actually attacking the body's cells and not a foreign substance. This response can be limited to a particular organ or it target a certain tissue found in different places throughout the body.
In GBS, the peripheral nervous system is affected. The peripheral nervous system (PNS) is made up of all the nerve cells (neurons) in the body, not including the brain and spinal cord, which make up the central nervous system (CNS). The role of the PNS is to attach all limbs and organs to the CNS.
The result of the autoimmune response is the myelin, material that insulates the axons of neurons, becomes inflamed, which in turn leads to nerve responses not being conducted along those nerve cells, or the impulse is blocked. This is coupled with muscle paralysis, which usually starts in the legs and then spreads upwards through the arms and face.
GBS can be treated, and if done so quickly, most patients will regain full function of all parts of their bodies. Death can occur if treatment does not occur or if the breathing organs become paralyzed.