A food-borne illness is hitting more Iowans and no, it’s not salmonella

DES MOINES — State health officials report a rise in the number of food-borne illnesses involving a bacteria called campylobacter. Cases topped one-thousand statewide for the first time in 2016 with more than 600 cases reported in the first half of this year.

Barb Fuller, a human sciences specialist with the Iowa State University Extension, says it’s usually associated with chicken.  “The biggest cause is eating raw or under-cooked poultry or things that are contaminated by raw poultry — so if you didn’t wash your cutting board or change your plate when you take something out to the grill,” says Fuller. “It can also come from things like raw milk or unpasteurized milk, but chicken is the biggest cause.”

The campylobacter bacteria is present in the intestines, liver and giblets of poultry and can be transferred to other parts of the animal when it’s slaughtered. Fuller says the bacteria is common, but it can be eliminated with proper cooking.  “About 33% of chicken that you buy in the grocery store is probably contaminated with bacteria,” said Fuller. “You can’t see it, you can’t smell it, you can’t taste it, so sometimes we think about chicken with salmonella, but campylobacter is a big problem.”

Symptoms of the illness can be severe in people with weakened immune systems, but she says most people only develop a mild reaction to the infection. “It does cause diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps and maybe nausea or vomiting,” said Fuller. “It causes those general sort of things you might think of when you ate something. It takes about two-to-five days and the symptoms last about a week.”

Even though you may recover in about a week, you can still be contagious for several weeks, so Fuller says you need to be careful being around other people — especially those who may be at a higher risk for a food-borne illness. Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control estimates there are 1.3 million cases of campylobacter infection every year.