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Campylobacter infection is one of the most common causes of diarrheal illness in the United States. Caused by Campylobacter bacteria, campylobacteriosis usually occurs in single cases, but it can also occur in outbreaks, when a number of people become ill at one time. Most cases are associated with eating raw or undercooked poultry meat or from cross-contamination of other foods by these items. Infants may get the infection by contact with poultry packages in shopping carts. Outbreaks of campylobacteriosis are usually associated with unpasteurized milk or contaminated water. Animals can also be infected, and some people have acquired their infection from contact with the stool of an ill dog or cat. The organism is not usually spread from one person to another, but this can happen if the infected person is producing a large volume of diarrhea.

A very small number of Campylobacter germs can cause illness in humans. Even one drop of juice from raw chicken meat can infect a person. Campylobacter organisms from raw meat can spread to other foods if poultry is cut on a cutting board, and then the unwashed cutting board or utensil is used to prepare vegetables or other raw or lightly cooked foods.

Unpasteurized milk can become contaminated if the cow has an infection with Campylobacter in her udder or the milk is contaminated with manure. Surface water and mountain streams can become contaminated from infected feces from cows or wild birds. Travelers to foreign countries are also at risk for becoming infected with Campylobacter, as this infection is common in the developing world.

Good hand hygiene — washing hands frequently with soap and water before and after handling food or after using the bathroom — is one of the best ways to prevent infection. Equally important are safe food-handling practices like keeping raw and cooked foods separate, washing cutting boards and utensils well between uses, and thoroughly cooking meats, especially poultry.

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