Water Sanitation Health

Water-related diseases


Campylobacteriosis is a severe form of diarrhoea that occurs worldwide. Sanitation, personal and food hygiene as well as safe water supply are important in its prevention.

The disease and how it affects people

Campylobacteriosis is an infection of the gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms of the infection include diarrhoea (often including the presence of mucus and blood), abdominal pain, malaise, fever, nausea and vomiting. The illness usually lasts 2 to 5 days but may be prolonged by relapses, especially in adults.

Many of those infected show no symptoms. In some individuals a reactive arthritis (painful inflammation of the joints) can occur. Rare complications include seizures due to high fever or neurological disorders such as Guillain-Barre syndrome or meningitis. Death from campylobacteriosis is rare and is more likely in the very young, the very old, or those already suffering from a serious disease such as AIDS.

The cause

Campylobacteriosis is a zoonosis (passed to humans via animals or animal products). The cause is a bacterium, usually Campylobacter jejuni or C. coli. The bacteria are widely distributed and found in most warm-blooded domestic and wild animals. They are common in food animals such as poultry, cattle, pigs, sheep, ostriches, and shellfish and in pets including cats and dogs. The animals may not have symptoms. People are exposed to the bacteria after consuming contaminated food such as undercooked meats, contaminated water, or raw milk.


The Campylobacter are generally regarded as one of the most common bacterial cause of gastroenteritis worldwide. In both developed and developing countries, they cause more cases of diarrhoea than Salmonella bacteria. In developed countries, the disease is found mainly in children under 5 and in young adults. In developing countries, children under 2 are most affected. It is also a frequent cause of traveller's diarrhoea.

Scope of the Problem

Approximately 5%-14% of all diarrhoea worldwide is thought to be caused by Campylobacter.


Prevention requires:

  • Safe drinking-water supply including continuous disinfection (chlorination) of drinking-water;
  • proper handling of production animals;
  • proper sewage-disposal systems and protection of the water supply from contamination;
  • thorough cooking of potentially contaminated foods;
  • adequate personal hygiene (washing hands after toilet use as well as after handling pets or farm animals);
  • avoiding raw milk.

Treatment includes:

  • rehydration therapy plus antibiotic therapy for those with severe infection.

Prepared for World Water Day. Reviewed by staff and experts from the cluster on Communicable Diseases (CDS) and the Water, Sanitation and Health unit (WSH), World Health Organization (WHO).