Major cause of painful gastroenteritis under study at MCG

It may have made the B list for bioterrorism agents, but Campylobacter jejuni is on the A list when it comes to causes of painful gastroenteritis.

Eating inadequately washed and cooked chicken is the number-one cause of this bacterial infection that results in three to five days of bloody diarrhea, fever, intense abdominal pain and other flulike symptoms for 2.4 million Americans each year, said Dr. Stuart A. Thompson, microbiologist at the Medical College of Georgia.

Dr. Thompson recently received a $1.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to better understand just how this common infection makes people sick.

While Salmonella likely has greater name recognition, a report published in the January 2003 issue of Consumer Reports said Campylobacter was present in 42 percent of the chickens the magazine bought in stores nationwide while Salmonella was found in 12 percent; both bacteria, which cause similar symptoms, were found in 5 percent of the chickens.

Campylobacter has another unfortunate statistic: one out of 1,000 people who get it also develop Guillain-Barre syndrome, an autoimmune response to a viral or bacterial infection that results in paralysis.

"This is one of the things that makes studying Campylobacter infections important," said Dr. Thompson, whose studies of the common bacteria include understanding exactly how it infects the body and developing a vaccine to prevent it.

"Most of these infections run their course and the patients are fine," he said. But weeks later, some people with certain, unidentified strains of the bacteria will develop Guillain-Barre syndrome. "What appears to be happening in those patients with certain strains is there are sugars on the outside of the bacterium that resemble sugars on peripheral nerve cells. So the body detects this infection, mounts an immune response against it but inadvertently generates an autoimmune response against the body's own periph

Contact: Toni Baker
Medical College of Georgia

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