Campylobacter

Campylobacter is the most common form of foodborne illness in Scotland (a situation which is similar to the UK and most of the developed world). The illness usually lasts around a week and is characterised by diarrhoea, abdominal pain and fever, and, in some cases, nausea and vomiting. For some patients, Campylobacter can result in much more serious illness post infection, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), reactive arthritis and, in rare cases, Guillain-Barré syndrome – a serious condition of the nervous system. At its worst, Campylobacter can kill.

What causes Campylobacter?

Campylobacter can be found in the intestinal tract of cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry, wild birds and domestic pets. It can be transmitted to humans via animal faeces and contaminated meat. Because of this, Campylobacter is part of a group of diseases called zoonoses- infections which can be passed from animals to humans.

Campylobacter in chickens

Campylobacter is particularly prevalent in the gut of poultry where it can grow to high levels without causing any illness in the animal. It is therefore difficult to control in the chicken production chain, and a survey has identified that around 73% of fresh whole chickens on retail sale in the UK are contaminated with Campylobacter.

FSS has commissioned research with the University of Aberdeen to improve our understanding of the most important causes of Campylobacter in humans in the Scottish population. The results of this research indicate that the types of Campylobacter identified in human infection in Scotland are most closely associated to those found in raw chicken (60-80%), followed by cattle (10-23%), sheep (7-24%), pigs (0-8%) and wild birds (2-6%), as indicated by the graph below:

This research provides evidence that the most important source of infection is chicken which has either been consumed raw or undercooked or has spread Campylobacter to other foods through cross-contamination. Read the full report.

Avoiding cross contamination

For more information, please visit food.gov.uk [external site] for cross-contamination guidance. Although E.coli is the key focus of this guidance, the measures outlined will also help in the control of other bacteria, such as campylobacter and salmonella.

Acting on Campylobacter Together

Campylobacter reduction is also a key priority for Food Standards Scotland and we are working closely with FSA to support the ACT campaign by targeting interventions that will help to reduce the number of foodborne Campylobacter infections in Scotland. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is leading work to reduce Campylobacter in UK produced chicken through its campaign Acting on Campylobacter Together (ACT). This initiative has brought together poultry producers, retailers and other stakeholders to identify and implement effective interventions for controlling Campylobacter at all stages of the food chain. More information on ACT can be found on the food.gov.uk/actnow [external site]. 

We are also collaborating with other partners in Scotland including Health Protection Scotland and Scottish Government to promote the ACT campaign and to understand how people in Scotland can become infected with Campylobacter and other zoonotic bacteria through the environment and identify ways that they can protect themselves from the risks of exposure.

Related Publications/Resources