Today, the Wyoming Department of Health issued a press release reporting that there has been a sharp increase statewide in potentially dangerous human Campylobacter bacterial infections this summer.

According to the release:

The department has identified 29 cases of Campylobacter infections in Wyoming residents statewide since June 1, which represents a 4-fold increase compared to historical data for the same time period. At least six people have been hospitalized. Nearly three-quarters of the case patients are male.

campylobacter.jpgKelly Weidenbach, an epidemiologist with the department’s Infectious Disease Epidemiology Program, observed that “[w]hile the increase in these infections appears to be sporadic with no single common source, it’s clear that animal-related illness is at least partially driving the increase.”

Typically, an individual who experiences a Campylobacter infection will develop diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramping, abdominal pain and fever for about one week.  As Weidenbach pointed out, “This illness can be extremely unpleasant, and can result in medical bills, missed work and loss of productivity.” She added, “In some people, the effects can be life-threatening.”

The Wyoming Department of Health also noted that, in rare cases, people may develop serious complications such as Guillain-Barré syndrome, a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system.  It can lead to paralysis and usually requires intensive care.

The department reports that:

Public health officials attempt to interview each reported case of Campylobacter infection in state residents. Among patients interviewed to date, exposure to animals, especially cattle and dogs, has been common. “In many cases, the animals were noted to be ill with diarrhea when the person had contact with them,” Weidenbach said. “Several have been ranchers or individuals who recently attended a cattle branding and who were accidentally exposed to fecal material.”

Campylobacter infection is common in farm animals and certain pets. A single ill calf can shed millions of bacteria in its feces. Campylobacter bacteria are also common in the feces of ill puppies and kittens. Campylobacter often causes illness in young animals, but infected older animals often have no symptoms. Humans are exposed to the bacteria in the fecal material and then become sick. 

In order to prevent further transmission of illness, Weidenbach and fellow health officials at the Wyoming Department of Health are recommending certain precautions including:

  • Washing hands with soap and water before eating or other hand-to-mouth contact.
  • If ill with diarrhea, wash hands frequently to minimize the chance of spreading the illness to others. Campylobacter is transmitted in feces.
  • Those ill with diarrhea who handle food for other people, work in a daycare/childcare setting or work as a healthcare provider with direct patient contact should stay out of work until at least 48 hours after the last bout of diarrhea or vomiting.
  • Those who work or volunteer where they have contact with animals should wear gloves while working and wash hands before moving to a different activity. Animals often have fecal material on their bodies. Wash hands thoroughly before drinking, eating or putting anything in the mouth.
  • Avoid consuming unpasteurized milk or products made from unpasteurized milk. Raw milk is often contaminated with fecal bacteria from the cows.