Foods & Pregnancy

What is Campylobacter

Campylobacter is a bacterium that is diffused almost everywhere in nature: it is present in the intestines of warm-blooded animals, poultry and in raw milk. Campylobacteriosis in humans can manifest as an infection with symptoms such as abdominal pain, fever, headache, nausea and/or vomiting and traces of blood in the stool..

In most cases, the infection resolves spontaneously; it only causes intestinal (pancreatitis, cholecystitis, enteric haemorrhages) and extraintestinal (reactive arthritis, kidney and liver inflammation) complications in some cases.

Rarely, Campylobacter infection can also give rise to Guillain-Barré syndrome, a form of immune-mediated neuropathy that occurs with sudden acute paralysis, in some cases also accompanied by alterations in respiratory function.

For pregnant women, fever seems to be the main disorder. In addition, malabsorption due to the action of the bacterium on the intestinal mucosa may cause delay in foetal development, and enterocolitis may induce premature delivery.

The infection is more dangerous if contracted in the second trimester of pregnancy than in the third.

campylobacter bacterium campylobacter on the dish
foods pregnancy campylobacteriosis risk

How the infection may occur

The infection can be transmitted to humans through contact with infected animals (birds, dogs, cats) or carrier humans.

It can also occur through the consumption of contaminated raw or undercooked food of animal origin, or through the intake of non-potable water.

The latter type of transmission is the most widespread and in fact campylobacteriosis is a predominantly food-borne disease.

Symptoms usually appear between 1 and 7 days after ingestion of the contaminated food, and the disease may persist for a period ranging from one day to one week.


Campylobacteriosis is the absolute leading zoonosis in Europe based on number of cases since 2005.

In 2013, 214,784 cases were reported at the European level, with 56 deaths. Cases in Italy were 1,178, but the ratio compared to cases of salmonellosis is about 1/4–1/6, compared to over 2/1 in Europe: this suggests an underestimation of the real spread of the infection nationwide.

Between 2009 and 2013, there was a continuous increase in cases per year, likewise in the number of hospitalisations. On average, the length of hospitalisation is 6 days, but can reach 90 due to the consequences of the infection. The number of deaths per year varies from 2 to 7.

Children under 1 year of age are the population with the highest incidence of hospitalisation, followed by children between 1 and 4 years of age.

cases in Europe in 2013
cases in Italy in 2013
days of hospitalization on average
Fish and seafood

What foods to be careful with

The foods that are most often involved in cases of campylobacteriosis are:

  • poultry meat eaten raw or undercooked;
  • raw or unpasteurised milk;
  • non-potable water ;;
  • raw or undercooked seafood.

Particular attention should be paid to ready-to-eat foods that may be subject to the following kinds of cross-contamination:

  • direct, by contact with other foods that carry the pathogen (mainly raw poultry meat);
  • indirect, by contact with contaminated and inadequately clean utensils or work surfaces.

How to reduce the risk of campylobacteriosis

Unfortunately, it is not possible to recognise food contaminated by pathogenic micro-organisms:
contaminated food shows no changes in colour, smell, appearance or taste.

Click on the button below to read the rules on foods to avoid and behaviours to be adopted
to reduce the risk of contracting diseases of microbiological origin transmitted by food.