Changed on: 26.08.2021
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Campylobacter are gram-negative, non-spore-forming, spirally curved bacteria. They grow under microaerobic conditions (increased CO2 demand as well as O2 sensitivity) and react sensitive to acidic and basic pH-values. Campylobacter can be reliably killed by pasteurisation. The most common species are C. jejuni, which causes about 90% of disease cases in humans (campylobacteriosis), and C. coli.


Campylobacter infections are widespread worldwide and occur more frequently during the warm season. Besides salmonella, they are the most important pathogens of bacterial intestinal diseases in humans. In Austria, campylobacteriosis continues to rank first among the reported food-borne bacterial infectious diseases in 2019.


Poultry, pigs, cattle, pets such as dogs and cats, and birds can be carriers of Campylobacter. The bacteria are possible intestinal inhabitants of these animals, which often carry Campylobacter asymptomatically.

Mode of transmission

Human campylobacteriosis is mainly considered to be a food-borne infection. The main sources of infection are insufficiently heated poultry meat, unheated food contaminated with bacteria (e.g. after using the same cutting board without thorough cleaning after cutting the poultry) and raw milk. Strict hygiene measures in food preparation should be implemented to avoid cross-contamination between raw meat and other food. Direct transmission from person to person (faecal-oral) is rare.

Incubation period

Usually 2 to 5 days, depending on the bacteria count absorbed. Already about 500 bacteria are sufficient to cause the disease in humans; more than 10,000 colony-forming units (CFU) can be found on one gram of poultry skin.


High fever, watery to bloody diarrhoea, abdominal pain, headaches and tiredness for one to seven days are symptoms of an infection with Campylobacter. Campylobacteriosis can also lead to autoimmune diseases, which do not appear until several weeks after the acute symptoms have subsided. Late effects such as irritable bowel syndrome, reactive arthritis (including Reiter's disease (inflammation of the joints), urethritis (inflammation of the urethra) and conjunctivitis (inflammation of the conjunctiva)) and Guillain-Barré syndrome, which causes paralysis of the peripheral nerves, can occur.


Usually, the disease is self-limiting. The therapy includes regulating the water and electrolyte balance. Infants as well as patients who develop high fever or are immunocompromised can be additionally treated with antibiotics.

Situation in Austria


The seasonal occurrence of campylobacteriosis has shown a similar pattern in recent years: the only a small number of cases appear between November and April, the most cases occur from June to September. The isolation rates of thermotolerant Campylobacter from slaughtered flocks of broilers show a similar pattern, with the highest values in the summer months, indicating higher contamination rates of fresh chicken meat during the summer and thus indicating chicken as the most important pathogen vehicle for Campylobacter.

Figure 1: Number of Campylobacter infections in Austria


    Figure 2: Comparison of incidence of salmonellosis/campylobacteriosis


    In 2019, thermotolerant Campylobacter was detected in 110 out of 235 samples of raw poultry meat and poultry meat preparations tested (47 %). In raw chicken meat and chicken meat preparations Campylobacter was detected in 81 out of 131 samples (62 %; 2018: 75 %; 2017: 67 %). 11 out of 56 samples of raw turkey meat and preparations (19,6 %) and 18 out of 48 samples of raw poultry meat (38 %) were tested positive for Campylobacter.

    Campylobacter was not detected in ready-to-eat poultry meat (20 samples), raw milk and other food. Beef and pork are rarely tested (four samples of beef) because Campylobacter generally does not survive the production conditions (the meat is matured and the surface of the meat gets dry) and therefore these foods play a minor role as a source of infection for humans.

    samples number of tested samples positive
    raw chicken 131 81
    raw turkey 56 11
    raw poultry 48 18
    poultry ready-to-eat 20 0
    raw milk 23 0
    other food products 66 0


    Since 2004, annual monitoring programmes have been carried out in Austria by the Federal Government, together with authorised veterinarians and AGES, in accordance with the Ordinance on Monitoring Programmes for selected pathogens in cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens. In 2014, a new EU implementing decision came into force, which provides for the testing of broiler and turkey flocks for the presence of thermotolerant Campylobacter every two years and the testing of isolated C. jejuni for their sensitivity to antibiotics. In 2015, 2017 and 2019 poultry did not need to be tested for Campylobacter, in 2018 the prevalence of thermotolerant Campylobacter in flocks of broilers was 55,5 %, in flocks of turkeys 54,9 %, in 2019 the prevalence was not tested.

    Professional information

    Human Medicine


    The pathogen is usually confirmed by cultivating Campylobacter from stool samples.

    National Reference Centre for Campylobacter

    • Species/genus differentiation of Campylobacter and related genera (biochemical, MALDI-TOF, PCR, sequencing)
    • Antibiotic resistance testing: Determination of the resistance of human, animal, food and environmental isolates to clinically relevant or epidemiologically important antibiotics on the basis of the minimum inhibitory concentration
    • Performance of tasks under the Zoonoses Monitoring Directive 2003/99/EC
    • Molecular biological fine typing (by means of PFGE, MLST) of isolates within the framework of laboratory-based epidemiological clarification of infection sources and pathways
    • Qualitative and quantitative detection of Campylobacter in food
    • strain collection (human, veterinary, feed and food isolates)
    • Carrying out interlaboratory tests
    • Advice

    Fresh cultures in Amies transport medium with activated carbon are best suited for shipping of bacterial strains. Only pure cultures should be sent in for analysis. The origin of the isolates and the necessary clinical and epidemiological data should always be provided. Please use the appropriate submission form.

      Contact, forms

      National Reference Centre for Campylobacter / National Reference Laboratory for Campylobacter in Food and Feed:

      AGES Institute of Medical Microbiology and Hygiene/Centre for Foodborne Infectious Diseases in Graz
      Beethovenstraße 6
      8010 Graz

      Mag. Dr. Sandra Köberl-Jelovcan
      Telephone: +43 50 555-61262


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