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  • James Howey

The Campylobacter factor (why I didn't eat my birthday cake)

Last year I was unlucky enough to contract Campylobacteriosis

two days before my birthday, meaning I had to spend a few nights in hospital and take 10 days off work sick. While I will spare you the gory details, it suffices to say that I wouldn't wish this infection on my worst enemy, and was extremely painful despite my access to world-class healthcare and medications.

Campylobacter is a genus of bacterium, which is known as one of the main causes of food-borne gastroenteritis in developed nations. Gastroenteritis is characterised by abdominal discomfort, diarrhoea, vomiting and fevers. As you may have guessed, the infection caused by Camplyobacter in the body is referred to as Campylobacteriosis. Common methods of exposure include the faecal-oral route (through contaminated food or water) under-cooked poultry, unpasteurised dairy products and contact with animals. Campylobacter is able infect humans and other warm blooded animals.

Further, Health Based Treatment Targets (HBTs) use Camplyobacter as the reference pathogen for bacterial load removal via water treatment for Tier 2 assessment, as part of a Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment (QMRA), as it is a well-characterised genus, and laboratory testing is commonly available for this pathogen. For more information on this, Viridis's resident Process Engineer Glen Luscombe will be presenting a case study on the application of HBTs at Ozwater '19 in Melbourne, Stream 7 Tuesday at 1:15pm.

Camplyobacter is a good example of why source water protection and drinking water treatment are so vital for the protection of public health, as through these methods the faecal-oral route can be broken. This pathogen is a known cause of illness through contaminated water, and is the agent in the 2016 Havelock North outbreak, affecting up to 5,500 people, 1,000 confirmed cases, 45 hospitalisations and 4 deaths.

I recovered quickly from the infection after doctors were able to identify the infectious pathogen (Camplyobactor jenjuni) and prescribe the corresponding antibiotic. I count myself as extremely lucky and someone in a similar position in a developing nation may not have been so fortunate, making me appreciate the importance of the United Nations' sustainable development goals, especially number 6, access to clean water and sanitation (read more here:


"Infections from some foodborne germs increased, while others remained unchanged in 2012". Centers for Disease Control. April 18, 2013

"The Havelock North camplyobacter outbreak 2016 - implications for risk management of drinking water". Ministry of Health NZ, 2017

"Camplylobacter" World Health Organisation, Janurary 23, 2018

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