Pediatric Campylobacter Infections Clinical Presentation

Updated: May 16, 2018
  • Author: Jocelyn Y Ang, MD, FAAP, FIDSA, FPIDS; Chief Editor: Russell W Steele, MD  more...
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Clinical manifestations of all Campylobacter species infections that cause enteric illness overlap and appear identical. These manifestations include the following:

Mild episodes of diarrhea subside within 7 days in 60-70% of cases, last for 2 weeks in 20-30%, and persist longer than 2 weeks in 5-10% of cases. In one third to one half of patients, initial symptoms include periumbilical cramping, intense abdominal pain that mimics appendicitis, malaise, myalgias, headache, and vomiting.

Watery secretory diarrhea consists of more than 10 stools per day and is frequently seen in younger children. Dehydration occurs in approximately 10% of these children.

Inflammatory diarrhea symptoms are indistinguishable from those caused by Shigella organisms, Escherichia coli, and Salmonella species. They are characterized by malaise, fever, abdominal cramps, tenesmus, bloody stools, and fecal leukocytes on light microscopy.

Rarely, in young adults and adolescents, inflammatory diarrhea can be severe and can be confused with Crohn disease and ulcerative colitis. Toxic megacolon with massive bleeding may occasionally occur. In asymptomatic neonates, C jejuni has been isolated from blood-streaked formed stools or hematochezia.

Bacteremia with C jejuni is uncommon and is most frequently found in patients with immunodeficiency, [16] patients with chronic illness, [15] and patients at extremes of ages. Bloodstream infections and systemic infections by C fetus are rare. The 3 patterns of bacteremia are as follows:

  • Transient bacteremia in a normal host with acute Campylobacter enteritis: These patients usually completely recover without treatment.

  • Secondary bacteremia or deep focus of infection such as meningitis, pneumonia, endocarditis, and thrombophlebitis in a normal host: Bacteremia usually originates from the intestinal tract and responds to antimicrobial therapy.

  • Chronic bacteremia with relapses that can persist for several months occurring in an immunocompromised host: In these patients, bacteremia can also arise from an infected indwelling catheter. Many such patients do not have acute enteritis.

Localized extraintestinal infections are uncommon manifestations and include cholecystitis, arthritis, urinary tract infection, pancreatitis, osteomyelitis, and meningitis. [17, 18] These manifestations may be the initial presentation of C jejuni infection or may occur simultaneously with bacteremia. They frequently are seen in patients who are immunocompromised or who are at extremes of age. Appropriate treatment is necessary.

Because of the affinity of C fetus for the genital tract (and by the tropism for fetal tissue), C fetus, [19, 20] and rarely C jejuni, [20, 21] are associated with perinatal infection. Abortion or stillbirth and premature labor have been described. Infants are often premature and develop signs and symptoms suggestive of sepsis, including fever, cough, respiratory distress, vomiting, diarrhea, cyanosis, convulsions, and jaundice. Infection typically progresses to meningitis, which may be rapidly fatal or may result in serious neurologic sequelae. The source of the organism in these cases has been the mother.



See the list below:

  • The abdomen is frequently tender upon palpation, especially the right lower quadrant.

  • Rarely, splenomegaly may be present.



See the list below:

  • Individuals at increased risk for Campylobacter enteritis include the following:

    • Those with occupational exposure to cattle, sheep, and other farm animals [22]

    • Laboratory workers

    • Those in contact with the excreta of infected persons

    • Homosexual men

  • The following underlying conditions increase risk for Campylobacter bacteremia, suggesting the importance of both humoral and cell-mediated immunity: [15, 16, 23]